Fort Leonard Wood’s population expanding

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (AP) — Its boundaries haven’t changed, but the footprint of this sprawling, 63,000-acre U.S. Army post continues to expand.

Other installations have shrunk or disappeared entirely, but two decades of military consolidation have benefited Fort Leonard Wood, located about 90 miles northeast of Springfield.

Already home to the Army’s Engineer, Military Police and Chemical Corps Schools, the fort gained several new training programs during the most recent round of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process in 2005.

In addition to its evolving training mission, the fort hosts several combat-ready units relocated from Europe.

The military surge instituted by President Bush in 2007 prompted additional growth at the fort, which provides initial military training as well as more advanced courses for members of all branches of the U.S. military.

Since 2008, more than $688 million in construction projects have been completed, are under way or pending, including $118 million in the fiscal year that started October 1.

“We’re up to almost 90,000 students a year,” compared to about 65,000 in 2005, said Dr. Rebecca Johnson, the highest-ranking civilian employee at the fort and deputy to Commanding General David Quantock.

“There’s a lot of growth going on here.”

One of only two “gender-integrated” basic training facilities — it trains male and female recruits side by side — Fort Leonard is responsible for training about 43 percent of the women now starting careers in the Army.

“There’s about 28,000 people in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood throughout the year,” said Mark Premont, director of the fort’s Plans, Analysis and Integration Office.

Almost two-thirds of those trainees stay at Fort Leonard Wood for advanced individual training, he said.

An average of about 12,300 new recruits are on the post at any one time, Premont said, contributing to an average day-time population at the post of about 34,000.

In addition to 7,000 experienced service members stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, that number includes more than 9,500 civilians who work at the post, Premont said.

Those jobs, as well as others in Waynesville, St. Robert and the surrounding area, contribute to the fort’s estimated economic impact — direct military spending as well as related support jobs — of about $3 billion a year, he said.

In addition to powering a significant portion of the local economy, the fort also appears to be contributing to Pulaski County’s rapidly expanding population.

The fifth fastest-growing county in Missouri, Pulaski County gained more than 11,000 residents — a 27 percent increase — between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

Of those age 18 and older, a quarter are military veterans.

“Eight of 10 people stay here” after retiring, said Johnson.

Another round of BRAC isn’t planned until 2015, but Premont — whose job includes assessing the needs of new units and preparing for their arrival — doesn’t expect Fort Leonard Wood’s growth to end soon.

On average, two to three new units or training programs have been added to the installation a year, he said.

“Currently we’re looking at standing up a new police dog training unit,” he said. A study also is under way concerning a possible move of the Geospatial-Intelligence College from Fort Belvoir, Va., to Fort Leonard Wood.

If approved, the geospatial program — which includes high-level mapping training — would be another program shifted from Fort Belvoir.

Fort Leonard Wood gained the Prime Power School from the Virginia installation as part of the 2005 BRAC recommendations.

Housed in a new $27 million facility, the school trains service members to generate electricity using existing facilities or portable units capable of powering entire camps.

“They operate these big generators that are incredibly noisy,” Premont said. “They’re the kind of things that provide power to whole city blocks.”

The secluded facility, opened in November, is a first for the fort, Premont said. “It is a (certified) LEED Gold building.”

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