Fort Johnson a driving economic force for central, SW La.

Published 10:58 am Tuesday, May 7, 2024

By Emily Burleigh

Fort Johnson is an economic tether for Vernon Parish — and the Louisiana Armed Forces Alliance (LAFA) aims to continue to grow the installation’s impact.

Military installations bolster local economies, said Avon Knowlton, executive director of LAFA. In 2022, the military impact of military assets, contractor and military spending in Louisiana totaled $9.6 billion, provided 77,000 people with jobs and produced $348.7 million in local and state tax revenue.

For the West Central Louisiana region, the military installation that serves as an economic driver is U.S. Army Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Johnson. The installation has about 8,000 soldiers stationed and 13,000 family members living on and off the post. Fort Johnson also supports 6,000 Department of the Army civilians and contract employees, and over 40,000 retirees living in Central Louisiana.

Leesville Mayor Rick Allen, chairman of LAFA, called Fort Johnson the “backbone of Vernon Parish” and noted the economic impact of the installation equals over $348.7 million for local and state tax revenue.

The LAFA — formerly Fort Polk Progress — is a network of business owners, retirees, citizens and local, state and federal leaders with the mission to stabilize and grow the economic impact of the military in Louisiana.

Knowlton said the alliance is a “dedicated unified voice to protect and grow the missions at Fort Johnson.” A large part of their mission is dedicated to stopping troop reduction at the installation.

LAFA members go to Washington, D.C., to lobby to keep soldiers and families in the area, she said. Over the years, Fort Johnson has faced rounds of troop reduction, but LAFA’s efforts have been able to prevent it. They have hosted listening sessions to get the attention of U.S. Army leadership, and have had vocal support from state representatives, including State Senator Mike Reese (R- District 30) and State Representative Charles “Chuck” Owen (R- District 30).

She also said Speaker of the House Mike Johnson helped to halt a potential troop reduction on October 2023.

“We were very fortunate with our local and national delegation, who are wonderful to us.”

On a more local level, LAFA works to incentivize soldiers and their families to stay in Vernon and the surrounding parishes to make the area more economically sustainable, she said. This is done by supporting soldiers, veterans and their families.

LAFA works with community organizations, economic development groups and chambers to “focus on developing and bringing new business and industry” and quality-of-life projects to CenLa.

“It is important that the communities surrounding the post throughout CENLA and SWLA coordinate efforts to support Fort Johnson through economic development and quality of life initiatives,” Allen said.

The implementation of these initiatives creates opportunities for veterans, which not only financially supports them and their families, but also the local economy. Knowlton said LAFA wants to provide “100 percent support” for veterans integrating into the Vernon Parish community.

“We know that folks that come out of the military and decide they want to stay here, well they have useful career skills. You have your engineers, you have your mechanics, you have people that have spent a career in the Army and now they’re coming in and working in our business and industries here. They are so vital to us here at Louisiana Armed Forces.”

Quality-of-life projects are also paramount to make Leesville and the surrounding municipalities “places of choice” for military members. These include public pools and the new Leesville mini gold park.

She said that soon LAFA and the city of Leesville will announce new quality-of-life and economic development initiatives to support LAFA’s mission.

Those interested in joining LAFA can contact Knowlton at 337-378-2088 or visit their website at