Last week’s decision to place an Augusta smoke shop off-limits to military personnel was a rare move for Fort Gordon’s command staff.
Trip 3 Smoke Shop on Wrightsboro Road was the first business to be recommended for the list since the Knights Inn at 210 Boy Scout Road was taken off a year ago.
“We put a lot of effort in determining why those locations should be placed off limits,” said Col. Robert Barker, the garrison commander, after the vote by the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board. “It’s not an overreaction.”
Military law gives commanding officers license to ban military members from visiting locations and businesses that are detrimental or harmful to their “health, morale, safety, morals and welfare.”
In the case of Trip 3 Smoke Shop, military police said the store was selling synthetic marijuana, called spice, to soldiers in uniform. The Army banned the use of spice by its soldiers, and Georgia outlawed the substance April 1.
Though the recommendation is made by the garrison command, it’s up to the commanding general, Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn, to make the final decision. That decision was still pending Monday, although Lynn placed the store temporarily off limits before the quarterly meeting.
Georgia’s Fort Benning and Fort Stewart, have eight and 10 locations, respectively, on their off-limits lists.
Some seem obvious, such as Starship Adult Novelties and Gifts in Savannah, which Fort Stewart has placed off-limits to its soldiers, but there’s also the area around the 13th Street bridge in Columbus, which Fort Benning has placed off-limits.
Military personnel are not allowed to fish, wade or swim a mile above or below the bridge after two soldiers drowned while swimming in the Chattahoochee River.
“It looks deceptively placid, but it’s got a horrible undertow,” said Elsie Jackson, a spokeswoman for Fort Benning.
Asked about the differences in the lists, Barker said Fort Gordon’s population differs from its neighbors. As home of the Signal Center of Excellence, it provides Advanced Individual Training for recruits fresh out of basic training.
Those soldiers are under strict regulation; it’s four weeks before they can leave the post and are then subject to a midnight curfew.
Realistically, there are not as many places in Augusta where soldiers can find trouble as in some other military towns, Barker said. When one business becomes an issue, “we have to do what is necessary to protect … their safety and welfare,” Barker said.
For the last place on Fort Gordon’s list, that meant a substantial loss of business.
The Knights Inn was placed on the blacklist in 2004 after a history of drug problems at the hotel. Achyut Patel, the managing partner, said losing Fort Gordon’s business cost him 15-20 percent of his business.
“They were regular business for a long time,” he said.
A change in management started the necessary improvements, but Patel said they waited two years before petitioning to get the hotel off the list. That moment finally came March 21, 2011, when his petition was “favorably considered” by the Armed Forces Disciplinary Review Board.
In July, a methamphetamine lab was found in one of the rooms, but the hotel remained off the list. Patel said Monday that policies were put in place after that, including mandatory daily house cleaning, regardless of the guests’ wishes.
“Things are getting better,” he said. “It takes awhile to get your name back.”