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WisBiz In-Depth: Winter wind-down creates concerns at Fort McCoy

By Gregg Hoffmann

Fort McCoy didn’t shut its gates Monday, but a planned wind-down and redirection of troops to other facilities did technically start on that day.

About 1,800 troops that would have been mobilized for duty at the 60,000 acre Monroe County facility are being routed elsewhere. Military officials have said the redirection will last from Nov. 15 through March.

Their reason for the redirection is listed as weather, but some of the troops are being sent to Indiana, hardly a tropical climate during winter.

Officials at the fort, and in the surrounding communities, are asking why the redirection is happening, and they are privately wondering if the reduction of the fort to basically part-time status could put it on the hit list next spring when military installations overall could be reduced by 20-25 percent nationwide.

Linda Fournier, public affairs officer for Fort McCoy, said about 1,000 troops were being mobilized at the facility this week. Five more units of soldiers were scheduled to come soon to the fort to be demobilized after serving in Iraq and elsewhere.

That will keep the fort going until after the holidays, but demobilization takes only eight to 10 days, rather than the 45 to 60 days that mobilization takes. So, troops coming home will spend a much shorter time at the facility.

The fort hopes to avoid layoffs because of the reduced troop levels. Griffin Support Services had contracted for mobilization services and was hiring people when the redirection order came down several weeks ago. The company was just about at 90 employees at that time, so it hopes it can make it through the winter without layoffs.

In 2003, 1,657 civilians, 1,002 military personnel and 624 contract workers were employed at Fort McCoy. Payroll for the fort last year, the latest year that has available data, was $96.07 million and operating costs were $163.8 million.

The estimated economic impact of the facility was $613 million.

"Many of our civilian employees are local, and most of our contracts are with local companies," Fournier said. “A lumber yard operator in the area expressed concern just the other day. You also have discretionary spending in the area by the troops, and friends and family who come here to visit them. It impacts hotels, restaurants and other businesses."

Redirection Protested

Local government officials and businessmen have joined with state and federal representatives to push for some answers and reconsideration of the reduction at Fort McCoy.

Gov. Jim Doyle protested very publicly when the redirection was first announced in October. Being limited to seasonal work could hurt Fort McCoy's chances of competing with other bases, the governor said.

"It's deeply disappointing that the Defense Department would be quietly moving ahead with a plan that has such huge implications on the local economy," Doyle said in a statement. "If they are moving toward shutting down mobilization operations for half the year -- which could have even bigger implications in the long term -- the public deserves to know."

Doyle, who sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking him to reverse the decision, said Fort McCoy is the only in-state facility where the Wisconsin Army National Guard can do company, battalion, and brigade maneuvers. Without it, the Guard would be forced to conduct part of its training at bases outside Wisconsin, he said.

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installation and Environments Raymond DuBois said the winter move has no bearing on employment at the base or its future. Troops headed for 100-degree temperatures in Iraq should train in warmer climates, he said.

"Unfortunately, Governor Doyle is confused," DuBois said. "There will be no change in status at Fort McCoy."

Some local officials, and even some at the fort itself, have expressed concerns that despite DuBois’ assurances any decisions on base closings could come down to political clout. “It’s not supposed to be about politics, but when it comes down to Wisconsin versus Virginia, California or even New Jersey who do you think has the most clout?” said one military official who wished to remain anonymous.

Doyle, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and other state and local officials have said they will continue to keep the heat on the Pentagon and Defense Department. They emphasize that the climate in Indiana is not warmer than in Wisconsin and that Fort McCoy has been a training ground for troops in many winters during its 95-year history.

Long History

Fort McCoy is named for Robert Bruce McCoy. The son of a Civil War captain, McCoy was a prominent local resident who, throughout his lifetime, served as a lawyer, district attorney, county judge and mayor of Sparta. He reached the rank of major general during his 31 years of military service, which included service in the Spanish-American War, the police action in Mexico, and World War I.

McCoy returned from the Spanish-American War with a dream. He knew that as warfare became increasingly more modern, larger and more-powerful guns would be developed, and training would be emphasized. He envisioned these changes would require larger training areas, and, by 1905, he had acquired approximately 4,000 acres of land in the Sparta area. September 1905 marked the first use of the land for military purposes.

In 1910, the War Department authorized $40,000 for construction and improvements to the area. Within that same year, the reservation was renamed Camp Bruce E. McCoy, in honor of the Civil War captain and former owner of the maneuver camp lands. The camp retained that name until Nov. 19, 1926, when it officially was designated as Camp McCoy in honor of Maj. Gen. Robert B. McCoy, who had died that same year.

Additional land was acquired by the military over the next decade. Camp McCoy was used as a training facility for many World War II units, including the 2nd Infantry Division, the 76th Infantry Division and the 100th Infantry Battalion, which was comprised of Hawaii National Guardsmen of Japanese ancestry. The post also served as a prisoner-of-war and enemy-alien prison camp during this time. An estimated 45,000 troops were trained during WWII at the fort.

With only temporary lulls, the installation has been in almost constant use since its founding and has provided artillery and maneuver training opportunities for hundreds of thousands of military personnel from all services.

Camp McCoy was aligned under U.S. Army Forces Command July 1, 1973, and officially was redesignated as Fort McCoy Sept. 30, 1974. The post is one of 15 of the Army's "Power-Projection Platforms." In 1990-91, during Operations Desert Shield/Storm, soldiers from 74 separate units and their equipment were deployed and redeployed at Fort McCoy.

The installation has served as a power-projection platform by processing and preparing soldiers for duty in the war on terrorism.

Those protesting the redirection of the troops from Fort McCoy point to this history and ask “what has changed?” To date, they have not received what they consider sufficient answers.


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