Get ready, they’re coming.
That’s what Fort Stewart and 3rd Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Ton Cucolo told the Richmond Hill Rotary Club Thursday, noting an additional 10,000 soldiers and family members are expected to arrive over the next four years.
Cucolo said Fort Stewart is growing rapidly and is is ranked second among Army bases for projected military construction in 2009. $400 million in new construction is slated for next year, and "we’re already cutting trees," he said.
The Army plans to spend $1.3 billion at Fort Stewart between now and 2013. He said what makes the area attractive to the Army is the "road, rail, air and port infrastructure. We are the deployment node of choice for the armed forces of the United States. It is hard to replicate the capabilities of Hunter Army Airfield being so close to the port of Savannah and the rail that links Fort Stewart."
Cucolo said Richmond Hill is "an extremely popular location for our army families. It’s the atmosphere, the way you embrace them and all the great amenities of this community."
Cuculo said Fort Stewart is "the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi River" at 284,924 acres. He said 19,465 soldiers are stationed there.
"I can only house on post 20 percent of my assigned strength at both locations – Hunter and Stewart," Cucolo said. "So when I talk about growth, I want you to think about that … I need houses available by 2010."
Cucolo said he is providing local officials with information in order to determine "who’s arriving when and what type of housing they’ll be looking for."
He said when he was stationed in Fort Drum, N.Y., in 2004, he tried to get the word out to the community to prepare for the need for housing in anticipation for the arrival of 3,000 soldiers. He said many were skeptical the unit would actually arrive and failed to be proactive.
"If it’s any incentive, the brigade we’re building at Fort Stewart already is scheduled for deployment … we know it’s going to be a reality," said Cucolo.
Cucolo, who also spoke of local soldiers who died in the line of duty, said he is grateful for the city selecting the military theme "Home for the Holidays" for its recent holiday festivities and for inviting him and his fellow soldiers to participate in the Christmas parade.
"That was not taken lightly or taken for granted by our soldiers – trust me," he said.
Rotarian and Mayor Pro-Tem Floyd Hilliard said he recently heard some loud booming noises coming from the Fort, which he hadn’t heard in a while.
"We used to complain about our windows rattling from the artillery, but it’s nice to hear (they’re) home," Hilliard said.