AUSA luncheon

Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba speaks to a group of supporters during Dothan's annual AUSA luncheon at the Dothan Civic Center on Wednesday.

The Fort Rucker-Wiregrass Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army is one of the fastest growing such groups in the country, gaining over 114,000 members in three years — going from around 63,000 to more than 177,000.

AUSA is a nonprofit organization that primarily advocates for the interests of the Army.

“Your local chapter leadership fully understands that we must do a better job educating the civic and business leaders throughout the Wiregrass and support the Army, the mission of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, the tenant units assigned to Fort Rucker, and our National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers and their families,” Col. Mark Jones, the chapter’s president, said to members at its quarterly general membership luncheon in Dothan.

While the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter is the association’s largest, the Fort Rucker-Wiregrass chapter seeks to grow its community partners to take the No. 1 spot — a place it believes it should have due to the impressive near-$1.5 billion economic impact Fort Rucker has on the surrounding area. It is the fifth largest employer in the state and the largest employer south of Montgomery.

Right now, the Fort Rucker-Wiregrass Chapter has 141 community partners.

“As membership grows, so grows access to members of Congress, which is extremely important in our current political climate,” Jones said. “As you all know, Congress controls the nation’s purse, and in order to keep our Army relevant and ready, we must modernize and grow. To do so requires predictable and sustained funding.”

Jones said that the government has been operating on continuing budget resolutions for more than 10 years now, and many were passed at the last minute before government shutdowns.

“We now have a kind-of partial federal budget, which is slightly good because it does provide a level of fiscal predictability in certain sectors of our government. But we are nowhere close to being where we need to be,” he said.

Jones went on to say that the chapter will focus on membership drives and community outreach and will promote the interests of those who live and work at Fort Rucker.

“I implore you, on behalf of myself and Mike Schmitz, if you’re a business out there and you’re not a partner, sign up today,” Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba said.

Schmitz, vice president of membership for the chapter, was originally scheduled to speak, but was at a local hospital for emergency surgery Wednesday after reportedly breaking his femur in an early-morning biking accident.

During the luncheon, the chapter also presented a $500 check to city of Geneva officials for construction of a monument at Robert Fowler Park honoring Sgt. Maj. Robert Fowler’s service in Vietnam.

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