To provide the Fort Knox senior commander an opportunity to hear and address area residents’ questions, the Knox Regional Development Alliance organized a town hall April 17 at the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center in Elizabethtown.
Army retired Brig. Gen. Jim Iacocca, president of KRDA, said the idea came from several sponsors of the event, who wanted the public to meet with the commander, Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., in person.
“We just wanted the people of our greater Fort Knox community to be able to hear from the commanding general directly and have an opportunity to see him, talk to him, and ask him some questions,” said Iacocca.
Roughly 75 residents from the surrounding communities attended the event.
Evans started with a 17-minute overview of the installation before opening the floor to questions. The next 40-plus minutes were devoted to hearing from attendees and answering their questions. About eight approached the microphone.
The questions ranged from concerns about retiree and veteran medical care and assistance to Cadet Summer Training changes, whether the General George Patton Museum will eventually be directly accessible from Highway 31W and whether conscription is something that could return in the near future.
A local real estate businessman wanted to know about the capacity of available housing at Fort Knox, saying that Fort Knox housing partner Knox Hills is a competitor.
“I’m basically looking for whether or not you’ve reached the point where the housing is pretty much filled there,” said the man, who also wanted to know if Knox Hills has reached the fill capacity of civilian residents.
Evans consulted with Fort Knox Garrison Commander Col. Pat Kaune for the numbers. He then told the man that Knox Hills housing was currently at a 96.4% fill rate.
Evans provided a historical background to the equation, explaining that Fort Knox is no longer in the housing business but that the partnership leaders have with Knox Hills is a good one.
“We are one of the higher fill rates based on the [Residential Communities Initiative],” said Evans. “The [Department of Defense] partnership says that we will fill our housing at certain levels starting with active duty military, obviously, then people from … the Reserves and National Guard, and then our civilians in the workforce, and then military retirees and it trickles down.”
A retiree voiced concerns about no longer being able to access blood labs at Ireland Army Health Clinic once care workers move to the new on-post clinic, which is scheduled to open in 2020. Evans deferred that question to Col. Kevin Bass, the clinic’s commander.
“When we move to the new clinic, based on demand for labs retirees will have access to labs,” said Bass. “They will continue to have access to pharmacies. Right now, that access is being curtailed.”
The retiree thanked Bass.
After recognizing nobody else had questions, Evans concluded the town hall by providing the audience with a rundown of the U.S. Army’s big six priorities going forward. Those priorities are modernization of long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle that is lighter than the M1 Abrams tank, the future of vertical lift helicopters capable of speeds up to 300 mph, cyber networking upgrades, investments in air defense and missile defense, and greater Soldier lethality through futuristic weaponry and systems.
“We are mortgaging some other areas in order to do that because we think our time horizon for this is pretty short,” said Evans. “We want to be at arrival on all six of those programs by 2028, and that’s pretty aggressive in the modern acquisition process.”
Evans took time before and after the event to meet with individuals who had attended. Many asked follow-on questions or just got to know him better. Iacocca said he thought the town hall went as planned.
“I think this was a great event and I really appreciate General Evans’ time, the time of the other leaders from Fort Knox that he brought out, and I appreciate the community’s time to come out to hear General Evans,” said Jim Iacocca. “It was candid. He answered questions when he could and he had his experts here to answer questions that he couldn’t.”
Iacocca said he was a little disappointed about the turnout, but talks with Evans are underway to plan for future events.
“Periodically, it would be nice to do that,” said Iacocca. “Maybe as word gets out how this event went and we do it again, maybe next time more will show up.”