This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri March 6th, 2019. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
Over the past couple of years I have written about Army jobs and different conditions of life in the Army. This is about where soldiers work and live – Army forts. We’ll start with Fort Leonard Wood.
Fort Leonard Wood was conceived in 1940 during the nation’s military buildup before World War II. The fort was originally planned for Iowa, but at the last minute it was discovered that there was insufficient water at the Iowa location so Pulaski County Missouri was designated as the location. Rugged terrain in the middle of the Ozarks, but with lots of water, the Big Piney and Roubidoux Creek, with large springs. There has always been a rumor at the fort that it was switched to Missouri because the Iowa delegation made Harry Truman mad, but Harry Truman was just elected to his second term as a Senator in 1940, so he wasn’t in a powerful position at that time, but he could still have been the primary influence. The government already owned some of the land, but four small communities, and 304 families had to be displaced. Some had been on their land for several generations. The fort covers more than 61,000 acres.
Officials broke ground on December 3rd 1940, and by April 20th 1941 with over 32,000 workers, who came from all over and lived in a tent city, with 73,000,000 board feet of lumber, and 50,000 cubic yards of concrete, after excavating 3,000,000 cubic yards of dirt, all the while fighting wet weather, dragging trucks through the mud with bulldozers, had constructed 27 miles of railroad, 56 miles of roads and streets, 60 miles of water lines, 52 miles of sewer lines, 34 miles of electric lines, 1,537 permanent buildings and 250 temporary buildings. By June of 1941 Fort Leonard was completed and troops were training there.
Editors note: A $296 million dollar design/build contract was awarded in August 2019 for a new hospital at Fort Leonard Wood.
Fort Leonard Wood was deactivated after World War II, and much of the land was leased to cattle farmers, with only a skeleton caretaker crew remaining on the fort. It was reactivated during the Korean War, and due to cold war concerns was made a permanent installation. Troops who trained there, at that time, called it “Little Korea”, rugged rocky terrain, hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. In 1956 it was designated as the US Army Engineer Training Center. Major construction took place in 1950’s and 1960’s. In 1967 alone 120,000 troops were trained for Vietnam, at Fort Leonard Wood. By then troops referred to it as “Fort Lost in the Woods”, isolated with nothing off post. Then in 1990 the US Army Engineer Center and School moved from Fort Belvoir, Virginia to Fort Leonard Wood, after a 60 million dollar state-of-the-art education and training facility was constructed.
Fort Leonard Wood Post Headquarters and Engineer Center
In 1999 the Military Police Center and School and the CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear) Center and School moved from Fort McClellan, Alabama to Fort Leonard Wood and it was re-designated as the Maneuver Support Center. It was around that time that construction on and off post went into high gear. Out in the woods, on Fort Leonard Wood, is the most advanced Chemical Defense Training Facility in the world. The post museum is very large and fantastic.
The latest population figures for Fort Leonard Wood, released in 2018, are; 10,987 active duty soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen, 854 Army Reserve soldiers, 3,879 civilian employees, and 11,376 dependents living on post. Off post, Waynesville and St Robert each have a population of around 5,500, and St Robert has dozens of retail outlets, restaurants, and shops.
Sierra Redmond graduated college with a degree in journalism and married her high school sweetheart who had enlisted in the Army as a military policeman. Realizing there could be frequent moves with the Army which would detract from long term employment as a journalist, she became a blogger who writes a post called “Daily Impressions” for army wives. Their first permanent assignment was Fort Leonard Wood. She said that she heard the stories, “There’s nothing to do there.” “The post is so small you’ll hate it.” She wrote; “quite honestly, it was the best three years of our lives. It is one of the most family orientated posts. It is small, so it is easy to get around, and everybody knows everybody, from the top to the bottom of the chain of command.” She raved about how friendly and pro-military Waynesville and St Robert are, about the stores, and the things to do and see on and off post. Wives in the armywifenetwork.com called it the “Post with the most”. There are dozens of baseball/softball fields, and volleyball/basketball/tennis courts scattered around the post, and most are occupied almost every night during the warm season. Fishermen and hunters call Fort Leonard Wood – Paradise.
Fort Ladder Truck # 1
So, if you were counting, Fort Leonard Wood is a city of about 20,000, with a daytime working population of around 25,000. It has a large full service hospital and a fully manned Fire Department with two Fire Stations, one on Forney Army Airfield, which also serves as the local airport and has multiple commercial flights daily between St Louis and Fort Leonard Wood, with rental car offices in the terminal. Military Police man the entrance gates and conduct routine patrols throughout post 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A Desk Sergeant is on duty 24/7 at the MP Station. There is a large new Post Exchange (PX) and several annexes. The PX is like a Walmart supercenter, but without the groceries, those are in the very large commissary. In the old PX building is the military clothing sales store, restaurants, Class 6 (liquor store), and various venders.
Government owned family housing was privatized on Fort Leonard Wood in 2005 to American Eagle Communities Midwest. Department of Defense apparently wasn’t satisfied with the performance because in 2008 Fort Leonard Wood was switched to Balfour Beatty Communities. Most of the old government housing was demolished and new houses built. The old housing that remained was remodeled. I couldn’t find any on post housing complaints within the past five years, but with recent news of some substandard military housing General Mark Milley, the Chief of Staff of the Army said that he wanted to find out how big is the problem, and find out fast. Dr Mark Esper, the Secretary of the Army directed that every army family living in government housing be visited during the month of March. That is 86,000 families. He also directed that there would be absolutely no retaliation against anyone complaining about housing conditions. Every Army installation has had town hall meetings. A town hall meeting was held on Fort Leonard Wood Wednesday evening, February 27th. Company Commanders and First Sergeants are to visit every one of their families living on post. They are not to make appointments, but keep going until they have visited everyone. They are not to enter the house unless invited in by a family member.
So how would a person enlisting in the Army get assigned to Fort Leonard Wood? There can be some planning, but ultimately the needs of the Army determine who goes where. There are four main high population jobs trained at Fort Leonard, Combat Engineer, Military Police, CBRN Specialist, and Truck Driver. There is only one battalion of combat engineers permanently assigned at the post, and there is one permanent battalion of military police, so those are small possibilities. There are some CBRN specialists and some truck drivers, but not that many. There are two MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialty) (jobs) that are fairly numerous on Fort Leonard Wood. Those are Human Resource Specialist (MOS 42A), and Unit Supply Specialist (MOS 92Y). After completing Basic Combat Training, the AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for 42A is 9 weeks at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The AIT for 92Y is 9 weeks at Fort Lee, Virginia. There are also a good number of paralegals (MOS 27D) on Fort Leonard Wood. The 27D AIT is 11 weeks also at Fort Lee.
So if someone wants to enlist in the Army and be close to home, at the start of AIT on your AKO (Army Knowledge Online) site, at the ASK key (Assignment Satisfaction Key) list Fort Leonard Wood as your first choice. After Fort Leonard Wood, the closest post to Belle, MO is Fort Riley, Kansas, with Fort’s Knox and Campbell, Kentucky about tied at about 30 miles further. In the coming weeks we will explore those Army posts.
To visit Fort Leonard Wood, if you don’t have a Department of Defense ID Card, a Missouri drivers licenses is not sufficient identification, you must also have either a passport, a certified birth certificate (not a copy), a social security card (not a copy), a draft record or a DD 214.