Originally created 05/29/03

Adviser stresses need to save post



Thom Tuckey took his "save the fort" speech across the 13th Street bridge Wednesday morning to highlight how a base closure in Augusta could hurt business concerns on the South Carolina side.

The retired colonel and former Fort Gordon garrison commander made his case to about 50 business leaders during a breakfast sponsored by the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce, saying the economic impact alone from the soldiers who choose to retire in the area is substantial.

"In the North Augusta ZIP code, there are currently 447 military retirees who earn collectively $6.8 million a year," and that's going to everything from mortgage payments to weekly grocery shopping, he said. "South Carolina (military retirees) make $80 million a year," or just less than 30 percent of all pension money paid out to former Fort Gordon soldiers, he said.

Mr. Tuckey, who works as a military consultant for the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, is a key member in a combined effort backed by business and community leaders called the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon, whose central aim is to protect the fort from the round of base closures scheduled for 2005.

"It's going to be the 'mother of all ... cuts,"' Mr. Tuckey said. "Anyone on the list stands a 95 percent chance of getting shut down."

None of Georgia's 13 military installations have been touched in the past four rounds of base closures and a big community effort is needed to make sure Fort Gordon makes the cut this time, Mr. Tuckey said during his 45-minute presentation.

To that end, the CSRA Alliance, under the guidance of Republican Congressman Charlie Norwood, has set out to raise $1.2 million to hire a full-time lobbyist in Washington who will speak up for the post.

Gemma Frock, the board chairman for the North Augusta chamber, said Mr. Tuckey's talk was "insightful."

"A base closure would have a strong impact on the entire area," she said. "Just look at me: I'm the wife of a military retiree."

Next week, a group of about 50 business leaders representing the Augusta, North Augusta and Aiken chambers of commerce will head to Washington for their annual trip to "give a voice" to area concerns. At the top of the list, Ms. Frock said, will be the base issue.

Reach Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352 or matthew.mogul@augustachronicle.com.