Morrow donates to save forts

By Ed Brock

The city of Morrow dearly wants to save Army Garrison Forts McPherson and Gillem from the chopping block in 2005.

On Tuesday the city council and mayor donated $5,000 to the Save Forts McPherson/Gillem Foundation, an organization dedicated to keeping the forts off the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list due to be released in 2005. Fort McPherson in Atlanta is the parent facility for Fort Gillem in Forest Park.

"I'm a military retired officer and I appreciate the contributions these bases have made to the community, and not just the local community but nationwide," Morrow Mayor Jim Millirons said.

While the preparation of the BRAC list is still under way, the foundation is trying to rally the community's support now. They also are looking beyond 2005, said Grant Wainscott with the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce who also works with the foundation.

"This isn't just about trying to save the bases. It's about forming a long term sustainable organization for interacting with the bases," Wainscott said. "This is something we've needed for years and years and are finally getting together."

Other communities such as Warner Robins, home of Robins Air Force Base, have had similar organizations for some time.

Bases throughout Georgia survived a previous BRAC list in the early 1990s but foundation members are saying there is no guarantee that they will be spared this time as well. The Defense Department is expected to cut at least 25 percent of the military's infrastructure.

Millirons said the community has to rally around the forts because the bases are not allowed to advertise the things they do.

"People don't know what's out there so it's easy for them to say it's just a nice piece of property to turn over to private use," Millirons said.

The Lake City government has also donated $1,000 to the foundation, Wainscott said. The most pressing need for the money is to fund a $25,000 to $30,000 in-depth study of the forts and how they relate to the community.

Much of the coordination of the effort to save the forts was accomplished at a meeting two weeks ago with U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Georgia.

"Congressman Scott has made it very clear that keeping Forts McPherson and Gillem is one of his top priorities," said Scott spokesman David Johnson.

The bases are the third largest employers in Clayton County, the largest county in Scott's district, Johnson said.

Fort Gillem is home to the First Army and 89 units, and Fort McPherson houses the U.S. Army Forces Command and three other major commands.

As of 2001, the bases pumped more than $577 million into the local economy, according to Public Affairs Officer Ron Morton. The two bases also employed more than 8,400, including about 4,800 civilians.

Three major construction projects could keep Fort Gillem off the BRAC list as the base evolves to fit the needs of the military.

"It keeps pace with the modern Army," Morton said.

The headquarters for the 52nd Ordnance Battalion, an Army Reserve Center and a new facility for the Army's Criminal Investigation Forensics Lab are being constructed at Fort Gillem, he said. The crime lab is the only one in the Army and is the only crime lab for the defense department. The lab, which is currently housed in 1940s era warehouses at the fort, was used to analyze some of the evidence recovered from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks.

Among the considerations for base closures are how the closure would affect the local community as well as how unique the missions of the base are.