‘Listening session’ planned on Fort Polk name change

Published 9:55 pm Thursday, November 4, 2021

A public meeting with the commission charged with renaming Fort Polk and other military bases across the U.S. will be held at the Warriors Club at Fort Polk at 1:15 p.m. Nov. 18, according to officials.

The meeting is being declared a “listening session” and is expected to last one hour, and will allow an open dialogue between the officials tasked with finding a suitable new name for the Vernon Parish military installation and the public.

The meeting will follow a private session being held between the commission and local community leaders that is being held the day before.

The eight-person commission is expected to present recommendations to Congress by October of 2022 on what names should replace those that currently exist at nine U.S. Army bases whose names have been linked to the Confederacy.

In September, the commission began reaching out to the public for suggestions on what the new name of the installation should be and Leesville Mayor Rick Allen said he is aware the issue is a sensitive one for the community.

“There are a lot of people that believe the name should be left alone, but as I’m aware this is going to happen regardless of anyone’s feelings about it,” Allen told the American Press.

Allen said he is choosing to put his energy to where it will make the most difference, in educating the public in their ability to help decide the new installation name, and focusing on the future for the military base.

As the chairman of Fort Polk Progress, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the quality of life for Fort Polk service members and their families, Allen said he is choosing to look at the renaming as an opportunity for the base to “rebrand” itself.

“Fort Polk has not always had the best reputation in the Army because of its lack of resources in the past, and Fort Polk Progress is working on changing that. I think a name change might help us to separate ourselves from the old image of Fort Polk and allow it to be replaced by what it is now; an installation with one of the top school districts in the state and one that is supported by strong surrounding communities,” Allen said.

Allen did say he has concerns in regards to the cost that may be associated with the name change. He said he estimated the name change of Fort Polk alone could cost upwards of $5 million.

“This is not simply changing a name over the entrance of the gates. This will mean changing banners, name plates, signs on buildings and even stationary. There are signs along state highways that say “Fort Polk” and we have no direction on who that financial responsibility will fall on, whether it will be the city or the state or the military. Even Fort Polk Progress will have to change its name and everything that has that name on it. This will be a very large endeavor,” he said.

Whatever the new name to be chosen will be, commission officials have stated the name changes will all go into effect at the same time in January 2024.

The changes were mandated by Congress in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. It was vetoed by then-President Donald Trump, but his veto was overridden by Congress.

The Army bases identified by Congress as having Confederacy ties to their names include Fort Polk, Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia, Fort Rucker in Alabama, and Fort Hood in Texas.

Camp Beauregard was also identified as having Confederacy ties, but it is owned by the Louisiana National Guard and does not fall under the commission’s authority to be renamed, according to officials.

Fort Polk was named after Leonidas Polk, a Confederate General in the Civil War.

The commission will continue accepting suggestions from the public on new suitable names for installations through Dec. 1. Officials say they are seeking names that commemorate individuals, high-profile military operations, geographic locations or core military values. Suggestions may be submitted online at www.thenamingcommission.gov.