Officials host forum on military budget cuts

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Over 500 people packed the Columbus Convention and Trade Center Wednesday to voice their opinions about the Department of Defense and the changes they are being forced to make across the world, including here at Fort Benning.

"It is one community. Your cause is our cause," said Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

A recent assessment recommends a major reduction in force at Fort Benning, eliminating nearly 14,000 in military personnel, civilians and contractors that could reduce the region's population by 27,000 people and families.

"I want to assure you that no decisions have been made. I brief government officials pretty regularly where we are and I can assure you your voice and what you say here tonight will be carried back (to Washington D.C.)" explained Brig. Gen. Roger Cloutier.

A five member panel listened for over two hours as state leaders, local leaders and citizens expressed why Fort Benning should not face cuts from the Department of Defense.

"Fort Benning has been prepared to support growth. We are ready and willing to take on the challenges of the future army," said Rep. Sanford Bishop.

Possible cuts at Fort Benning would impact the region with a loss of $1.3 billion in total wages, retail sales, and tax collections.

"It's truly more than an economic asset. You are neighbors, Fort Benning is our community partner and frankly, you are family," explains Tomlinson.

Each person who spoke Wednesday expressed how Fort  Benning is a leader in the nation's defense and with its state-of-the-art facilities and successful past, it would be a smart choice for new defense opportunities.

"No community in America has ever sacrificed more blood, sweat and life to defend this county than in Columbus, Georgia," explained a concerned resident.

The Department of Army Listening Team says they will take the information heard tonight back to Washington D.C.

A decision concerning reductions will be made later this spring.

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