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Leaders say Fort Leonard Wood is an asset that also needs improvements

The main gate at Fort Leonard Wood
Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
The main gate at Fort Leonard Wood

Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri’s Ozarks is an economic driver that sustains the region, and is also a resource in need of care and expansion.

Those were among the messages at the annual meeting Wednesday of the Sustainable Ozark Partnership, a nonprofit organization that works to develop the region around Fort Leonard Wood.

The big project underway at the military installation is a new, $400 million hospital.

“That’s a good sign. The Pentagon isn’t going to stop investing in a place after building that kind of facility,” said U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, one of the speakers at the meeting.

Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, told the audience of community leaders she will continue to advocate for Fort Leonard Wood after she leaves office now that her bid for the U.S. Senate was unsuccessful.

“We need to continue to try and expand other services coming here. I think we can expand more into talking and reaching out more to the Air Force and the Navy,” Hartzler said.

Fort Leonard Wood has some Air Force and Navy personnel stationed there and hosts the biggest Marine detachment in the country outside of a Marine installation.

Another asset at Fort Leonard Wood that is being upgraded is the airport.

The Waynesville-St. Robert Airport at the base is open to the public and soldiers for commercial flights. United Express currently offers service to Chicago from the airport.

The airport recently received a $3 million federal grant to build a new passenger terminal.

And when it opens, there will likely be a second destination city.

“You can fly, right this minute, from Fort Leonard Wood to Chicago. But maybe in a couple weeks you might fly to another destination, let’s just imagine that it could be a place like Nashville, but we’ll see what happens,” said Dorsey Newcomb, executive director of the Ozark Partnership.

Other officials also said an announcement of service to Nashville is imminent.

SkyWest, which operates United Express Flights from Fort Leonard Wood, did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation.

While the meeting focused on projects that would continue the military base’s economic impact on the region, there were also calls for improvements that are overdue.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley said much of the on-base housing at Fort Leonard Wood is sub-par and needs to be replaced.

About 15,000 soldiers and their families live in military housing at the installation. Residents of older units have long complained about problems including mold and inconsistent heating and cooling.

Hawley said soldiers shouldn’t have to endure those conditions.

“They deserve quality military housing. There are about 1,000 housing units on post that probably need to be replaced. It needs to be a priority of the Army to replace that housing,” Hawley said.

Hawley said he will work for more funding and an aggressive timetable to replace substandard housing.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.