Three years after surviving a nationwide round of military base reductions and closures, Fort Gordon is growing up and out.
The government has invested millions of dollars in the post since it survived the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure procedure that shut many military facilities in Georgia and nationwide.
From barracks improvements to home construction, from a new law enforcement center to a $340 million National Security Agency listening center, construction is everywhere across the post's 56,000 acres.
"Fort Gordon has had a couple of really good years," said Col. John Holwich, the post's garrison commander, a role similar to a mayor. "We have progress going on every day."
Several military endeavors are providing that opportunity.
The Grow the Army initiative, which aims to increase active, reserve and guard units across the board by 74,200, prompted many of the current construction projects.
To keep pace with the rising number of recruits, which require the technical and communication training Fort Gordon provides, 1,284 modular barracks were added last spring.
"We're technical, so it usually takes longer than the other MOS's (Military Occupational Specialities) that fill out those other units," Col. Holwick said. "Because of that, they stay here longer than most places."
Growth plans also led to the Trainee Barracks Upgrade Program, which aims to renovate 18 of the 1960s-era barracks and several headquarter buildings at a cost of about $250 million. Work on a brigade headquarters, battalion headquarters, dining facility and one of the "rolling pin" style barracks -- so called because of its shape -- is expected to be complete in February.
Col. Holwick said this program, which has a completion date of 2015, is moving along steadily, but part of the difficulty is finding a place to put the troops in the meantime.
"My biggest problem is not getting ... money; it's finding where to put people when I do get the money," he said.
In another strong sign for the post, the Army announced last month that a new signal command would be based at Fort Gordon by 2010. Brig. Gen. Jennifer Napper will be in charge of the 7th Signal Command, whose mission will be to operate and protect the continental U.S. portion of the Army's global computer network.
Perhaps more importantly for the future of Fort Gordon, an additional 171 civilians and 69 military personnel will be employed for this mission.
Retired Army Col. Thom Tuckey, a former garrison commander at the fort and a military expert for the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon, said each of these new civilians is a boon to the local economy.
"These civilians are long term," Mr. Tuckey said. "For the most part, government civilians buy houses, settle in communities, and their kids start out in whatever grade and go all the way though graduation. They become a more stable part of the community as compared to your military folks, who generally rotate every two to three years."
But even the post's biggest boosters admit the monetary investment is no guarantee of future survival, and neither a boom in construction nor an increase in civilians at Fort Gordon is a sure-fire shield against downsizing.
According to Department of Defense documents. "military value" should be the primary consideration when making recommendations for base realignment and closure.
This means the mission of the Army can, and often does, trump funding for a base or the community's fondness for it.
That was the case for many bases earlier this decade.
In the years leading up to the 2005 BRAC decisions, the Augusta community mobilized in support of Fort Gordon under the leadership of U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood. In May 2005, the Pentagon announced the post wouldn't close, but other Georgia bases weren't so fortunate.
Fort McPherson, Fort Gillem and the Naval Air Station, all in the Atlanta area, were shut down. So was the Navy Supply Corps School in Athens, despite the efforts of people such as Leonard Sapera.
Mr. Sapera, a retired Navy officer, said he helped mobilize the Athens community to protect the school.
His organization, the Athens-Clarke County Navy School Task Force, presented the school at a cost-effective facility needed to train military personnel.
Three years later, Mr. Sapera said, he feels Fort Gordon is in a good position when more base closures arise, calling any effort to close the post "dumb."
Mr. Tuckey said he is confident and hopeful for the future.
"I would never say we have 'BRAC-proofed' Fort Gordon, but I feel very confident that it will not be closed as part of another BRAC round," Mr. Tuckey said.
Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
Estimated population of Fort Gordon
Size of the post
Economic impact on the Augusta area
Source: Col. Thom Tuckey
ARMY FUNDED PROJECTS AT FORT GORDON:
2006 $56.4 million
2007 $39.1 million
2008 $99.3 million
MEDICAL COMMAND/HOSPITAL REPAIRS AND RENOVATIONS:
2006 $3 million
2007 $6.6 million
2008 $17.8 million
Source: Rob Spoo
Three Key Numbers
23,000 - Estimated population of Fort Gordon
56,000 acres - Size of the post
$1.4 billion - Economic impact on the Augusta area
Source: Col. Thom Tuckey
Army Funded Projects at Fort Gordon
2006 - $56.4 million
2007 - $39.1 million
2008 - $99.3 million
Medical Command/Hospital Repairs and Renovations
2006 - $3 million
2007 - $6.6 million
2008 - $17.8 million
Source: Rob Spoo.