“Alabama and the United States military go together like butter and molasses on a warm biscuit,” is the way Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey put it. “The Wiregrass coalition being formed today will be a great asset to support Fort Rucker.”
Ivey was in the Wiregrass May 30 for the launch of an initiative called “Fort Rucker: Heartbeat of the Wiregrass.” She was joined by mayors from Enterprise, Ozark and Dothan, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Executive Director, the Southeast Alabama Gas District President and the Friends of Fort Rucker Vice Chairman to outline the initiative that is calling for citizen’s support.
“Southeast Gas is proud to be the natural gas provider for the Wiregrass,” said SEAGD President Greg Henderson. “We all know the important role Fort Rucker serves in our area and our economy and that is why Southeast Gas is proud to help lead the new coalition.
“We want to engage thousands of local citizens in this campaign,” Henderson added. “Nothing is more important than Fort Rucker. It plays a critical role in our national defense.”
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz said the coalition is an offshoot of the Department of Defense’s listening session held at Fort Rucker in 2015 in which nearly 2,000 area residents participated.
Schmitz said that the grassroots support for their military neighbor garnered Fort Rucker an award for outstanding community support. “If you don’t think your voice—and our voice— counts, you are wrong,” he said, during the news conference held at the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce to announce the coalition’s website.
The coalition will work hand in hand with the Friends of Fort Rucker, which was created after the 1993 Base Realignment and Closure hearings, Friends of Fort Rucker Vice Chairman Floyd Rodgers said. “There was a group of great Americans in our community that came together and said, ‘What are we going to do to next? How prepared are we going to be if this thing happens again?’
“So they formed the Friends of Fort Rucker which has been very involved since that time,” Rodgers said. “BRAC is one of those four letter words that we don’t like to talk about but it is a reality.
“The Friends of Fort Rucker’s mission was then and is now to keep Fort Rucker alive and well in our community here and we’re still doing that,” Rodgers said. “We don't just want to keep Fort Rucker alive, we’re also looking for opportunities to grow Fort Rucker.
“We’re excited about what this coalition group is doing in the area,” Rodgers said. “We’re looking for areas that we can collaborate in to see how we can continue to build upon and support for our military and our communities.”
With more than 23,000 jobs generated by The Home of Army Aviation and an estimated $1.5 billion economic impact annually, there is no question that the post is the area’s “largest economic engine,” said Ozark Mayor Bob Bunting. “It drives Ozark and Dale County’s economic engine for sure.”
A retired Army colonel, Bunting came to Fort Rucker in 1961 to go through flight school, married an Ozark woman and subsequently retired to Ozark, he said. Ozark and Dale County provide over a fourth of the post’s contract employees and the (Enterprise State Community College’s) Alabama Aviation Center in Ozark trains many of the post’s mechanics, he added.
“We all know that Fort Rucker is the economic engine that helps keeps the Wiregrass running,” Enterprise Mayor William “Bill” Cooper said. “We are charged to do everything in our power to keep the (Fort Rucker) mission strong and to provide a quality of life for our men and women in uniform that is unmatched anywhere in the nation.
“Our soldiers fight for our very freedom and shame on us if we, as community leaders, don’t fight for them also,” Cooper said. “We should have the soldiers and their families in mind with every decision that we make.”
Fort Rucker officials are not permitted to lobby for the post, Schmitz said, so area residents must be the ones to do it. Fundraising is not part of the plan.
The goal of the coalition is to get as many people as possible to sign up on the coalition’s website www.wiregrassheartbeat.com to create a database to pull from in the future to keep people involved in supporting Fort Rucker, Henderson said. “The need may be just to get the word out. The need may be just to show up at a meeting or just to communicate to the people in your community,” Henderson added. “This is a grassroots effort to create that data base that can be called on in the future.”
“As governor, I pledge to do all I can to maintain the existing installations in our great state; having strong military presence in Alabama is certainly important to me and its also important to the future of our great state,” Ivey said. “I give my ongoing commitment of constant support for the men and women who wear the uniform. May God continue to bless you, our military, the great state of Alabama and these United States of America.”