The Christian County Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs and Governmental Affairs Committees hosted Sen. Rand Paul for their roundtable luncheon Tuesday afternoon to discuss the future of Fort Campbell, trade war issues for western Kentucky and more. Chamber President and CEO Kelli Pendleton led the discussion along with Paul, with a large focus on Fort Campbell and how to help the post grow as well as the on the upcoming U.S. Census and how the census can correctly coun soldiers deployed at the time of the count.
"We've been working for several years to make sure the soldiers are counted in the census," Paul said. "Cities receive the federal dollars based on how big you are, and for many years we felt like Hopkinsville (and Oak Grove) were undercounted because of the soldiers that were deployed.
"It sounds like, at times, like when the census was, there might have been of the 27,000 (soldiers at Fort Campbell) maybe 15,000 or 20,000 were deployed. Now it's a little bit less, but I think it's important because their families are here, and they use the roads, sewers and electricity. And they should be counted as part of the community."
Paul additionally shared that he is trying to make sure that at the federal level, the census will correctly count those soldiers who are living in the surrounding communities around the post. Pendleton also shared concerns about the decision made by President Donald Trump to divert more than $60 million in funding for the U.S. and Mexico border wall; those funds were previously going to be used to renovate the former Fort Campbell High School into a new middle school.
Pendleton explained that along with that, the post is in need of more military vehicles as well as plans for construction; she said the loss of that funding hurts the post.
"We just want to ensure with (101st Airborne Division, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and 5th Special Forces Group) being the most deployed of the entire Army -- there's very little (military construction) and funding for them," Pendleton said to Paul.
"So, if there's going to be an effort being put into those areas, we feel like Fort Campbell is one that should not be losing ground, but gaining ground," she continued.
In response, Paul said he was opposed and voted against Trump's decision to defer those funds, despite being supportive of Trump and border security. However, he said the courts have not yet made a ruling on that decision.
With that, Paul shared that he believes the money that may be diverted for the border wall will be put back into that funding for the military, and Fort Campbell would then be able to use those funds for the new middle school.
Paul added that allowing funds to be transferred in that way could lead to a bad precedent, where each president could have a "pet project" to move funds around from entities like the U.S. military to complete those pet projects. Part of the discussion also focused on expanding and helping the post grow so military families can move into the surrounding cities.
"Something that we're talking about as a community -- not only us but with our friends across the border in Tennessee -- is how do we grow the installation, not only Fort Campbell but across the state," Pendleton said. "On top of that, how do we grow within the community." However, Paul was not able to share how much of a focus that subject is currently with government at the federal level. Paul also shared his own concern and focus that he is bringing to Washington D.C. with the trade war affecting western Kentucky.
"This is a farming community and a lot of the farmers have been telling us that they're being hurt by the trade wars," Paul said. "We had a big market with sending some of our soybean and grain to China and a lot of that is drying up as we're having this trade war with China.
So, I take the message from both farmers and the community back to Washington and try to convince the president we need to be done with this trade war, because it's hurting my state. It's not just the farmers. It's the bourbon distillers, car manufacturers, hard working folks."
After the luncheon, Paul shared that he finds these kinds of discussions valuable and learns a lot from the communities he represents.
"I always enjoy (these meetings), because I learned something new about Fort Campbell and exactly how many soldiers are here and how many are being deployed," Paul said.
"I learn a little bit everytime I come, and it's good to meet everyone in a relaxed setting where there's not so much speechifying and it's just everyone getting to know each other a little better and learn a little bit more about what's going on."
Reach Avery Seeger at 270-887-3236 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AveryNewEra