Col. Brent Bolander, commander of the depot, hosted a community covenant signing with area leaders at the depot Thursday. Through the signing, the depot and community leaders agreed to do whatever they can to support area soldiers and their families. However, significant military budget cuts are set for March 1 — a possible roadblock to the depot’s efforts.
“That is a bit unknown,” Bolander said of the effect of the budget cuts. “Our best objective is to provide as best we can with the resources available.”
The massive military budget cuts, referred to generally as sequestration, are scheduled to cut 9.4 percent from the defense budget and 8.2 percent from domestic programs.
“We look at everything very closely and if there is any adjustment in funding, we try to lessen the impact on programs as best we can,” Bolander said.
Still, Bolander expects the depot to keep its promise to support soldiers.
“Absolutely, that’s who I am,” Bolander said. “Certainly the covenant is a symbol of that support to soldiers.”
Thursday was the depot’s third signing of a community covenant with local leaders. The first was signed in 2008 and a new one is needed for each new depot commander. Bolander became depot commander in August. The Secretary of the Army started the community covenant program in 2008 as a way to bolster support for soldiers and their families. More than 450 covenants have been signed by Army communities worldwide. The mayors of Weaver, Ohatchee, Jacksonville, Anniston and John Blue, chairman of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, all participated in the depot event.
Bolander said the depot has done much to keep its covenant promise in the last few years, including hosting Veterans Supermarket of Benefits fairs in Anniston, organizing military family advocacy programs and collecting about $50,000 in donations annually to give to soldiers and retirees in need of emergency financing. The depot also created a survivor outreach program last year for military families and hosted a wounded warriors hunting event earlier this month.
“We must do everything in our power to meet those needs,” Blue said.
Blue said the business community has a responsibility to support soldiers and the depot in particular, which employs about 3,000 civilians. In 2011, the chamber acquired grant funding for Operation 1ST Rate, a program that helps displaced military workers find new jobs.
“We must remember a covenant is better than a promise,” Blue said. “It is sealed with faith.”
Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart said the depot is a huge part of Anniston’s economy and must be supported.
“It’s all about community support,” Stewart said.
Johnny Smith, mayor of Jacksonville, agreed that continued support of soldiers and the depot was of paramount importance.
“We have an awful lot of folks who live in Jacksonville who are employed at the depot,” Smith said.
Smith said Jacksonville has done its part to support soldiers in past years, including honoring the military during Fourth of July events and organizing Sept. 11 ceremonies.
“They say the nation’s strength comes from its soldiers,” Bolander said. “But soldiers’ strength comes from families, employers and the community.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.