Originally created 11/28/01

Out of the Army, into Augusta

A number of people realize Augusta has more than a few good men and women. In fact, eastern Georgia and western South Carolina is a virtual hotbed for military retirees.

Many say the area's ability to provide top-quality medical care is a plus. Jim Hussey agrees.

Before a stint working for U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, from 1990 to 1994, he was a topranked, commissioned officer at Fort Gordon and reported to Gen. Robert Gray.

"Outside of Atlanta, this is the highest number of retirees in the state," said Mr. Hussey, a Department of Veterans Affairs adviser who retired as a sergeant major from Fort Gordon seven years ago.

According to Fort Gordon's public affairs office, there are 11,837 retired military personnel in the area: 9,486 from the Army and 2,351 from the Navy, Marines and Air Force.

Access to military health care and the area's reasonable cost of living are attractive to retirees, said Fort Gordon spokeswoman Marla Jones.

"A significant number of retirees travel from Florida and the Carolinas to visit the (Dwight D.) Eisenhower (Army Medical Center) and the two Veterans Administration hospitals," she said.

Although quality of life is a priority, Mr. Hussey says local pay scales are another story.

"The pay can be OK. But compared to some parts of the nation, even Atlanta, comparable compensation probably needs to be looked at. But people are friendly here," Mr. Hussey said.

Conversely, Herbert Curry says the job market is not bad, depending on your background. The commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10601 in Aiken, Mr. Curry chose to live in Aiken after a 20-year Navy career.

"Between weather and jobs, this is a nice region," said Mr. Curry, an industrial engineer with GlaxoSmithKline in Aiken.

Jim Morris, of Aiken-based James L. Hammons Detachment of the Marine Corps League, heads a local group with about 1,100 detachments nationally.

"We're just 4 years old with over 100 members," said Mr. Morris, a Marine from 1950 to 1956. He moved to Aiken in 1997 after visiting a sister who was involved with horses.

"This is an excellent area for retirees," he said. Mr. Morris, 70, retired from Bowling Green University in Ohio as a personnel director.

Realizing the cotton mills of Griffin, Ga., presented a bleak future for a young man, Leonard Lifesy volunteered for the Army in 1937. After retiring 27 years later, he and his wife, Mayme, reared their five children in Augusta.

"It's still a lovely town. We wanted someplace larger than Griffin but not as big as Atlanta. And the children enjoyed the schools," said Mr. Lifesy, 81, who eventually became a successful nightclub owner and home builder. He, too, says easy access to local medical facilities is a benefit.

Maj. Luther Bill Price heads the Augusta/CSRA Area Veterans Activities Office and says ex-military members are impressed with the area.

"Retired veterans love the CSRA," said Maj. Price, a 22-year Army retiree in his 18th year as a Junior ROTC Army instructor at Academy of Richmond County.

"Considering how long Fort Gordon's been around with World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm veterans, that makes thousands of us around here."

Because he's an Augusta native, Maj. Price says, he's unique.

"Very few vets are like me. I was born downtown on Ellis Street," he said. Maj. Price has lived in Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Europe.

"You can't find another area where the facilities are as good for retirees as Fort Gordon. Eisenhower is one of the finest in the USA.

"And because it's the home of the Signal Corps, that's why the fort has always survived federal budget hits.

"And we can be in the mountains or the ocean in three hours. We can golf almost year-round. That's why Presidents Eisenhower and Wilson loved it here," Maj. Price said.

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.


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