If you live in the Wiregrass there is a good chance you work at Fort Rucker or you know somebody who does.
With more than 23,000 jobs tied to the Army post, there is no question that the economic impact, estimated at $1.5 billion annually, is enormous for the local economy.
That is why Friends of Fort Rucker was established after the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process in 1993, which caused concern that Fort Rucker wasn’t immune from losing jobs or even being closed.
Friends of Fort Rucker is still active, but now another group has been formed so residents can be part of grassroots support for the post. The Fort Rucker: Heartbeat of the Wiregrass coalition was announced Tuesday afternoon with a very simple goal – get as many people as possible to sign up on the coalition’s website to create a database to pull from in the future to keep people informed and get them involved. Fundraising is not part of the coalition’s efforts.
“We want to engage thousands of local citizens in this campaign,” said Greg Henderson, president and CEO of Southeast Gas, which is sponsoring the coalition’s efforts. “Nothing is more important than Fort Rucker. It plays a critical role in our national defense.”
The coalition’s website, www.wiregrassheartbeat.com, is now live and gives you the option of providing your name and email address for the database. There is also some basic information about Fort Rucker and the impact the post has on the Wiregrass.
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz said the coalition was the result of the Department of Defense’s 2015 listening session at Fort Rucker, which attracted more than 1,600 residents. At that time, Schmitz said, there was talk of laying off 3,600 employees, but only 86 jobs ended up being cut after the hearing.
“If you don’t think your voice and our voice counts, you’re wrong,” Schmitz said.
Since Fort Rucker officials can’t speak up and lobby for the post, residents and others must be the ones to do it, Schmitz said.
With the support of the Southeast Gas, which is owned by 14 Wiregrass cities, several local mayors are taking active roles in supporting the coalition.
Ozark Mayor Bob Bunting, who came to Fort Rucker in 1961 to go to flight school, said Ozark and Dale County provide over a fourth of the post’s contract employees and the Enterprise State Community College Alabama Aviation Center in Ozark trains many of the post’s mechanics.
“It drives Ozark and Dale County’s economic engine for sure,” Bunting said. “They shop in Ozark, they buy cars, they attend many of the 44 churches we have.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey was also present Tuesday to introduce the coalition and talk about the importance of Fort Rucker and the military on Alabama’s economy.
“Alabama and the U. S. military go together like butter and molasses on a warm biscuit,” Ivey said.
On a statewide level, Ivey recently signed eight separate bills that show Alabama’s support for the military and military personnel.
While the coalition exists to gather grassroots support, the Friends of Fort Rucker will continue in the role of working to keep Fort Rucker alive and well. Floyd Rodgers, vice chairman of the group, said they actually want to continue to grow the post and they’ll be looking for opportunities to collaborate with the coalition to work toward that goal.