Established with grand beginnings in 1917, Anniston's Army post weathered myriad alterations, its status constantly shifting to meet the military's needs. Build up. Stand down. Redesignate. Deactivate. Build up again.
First Camp McClellan, then Fort McClellan, survived the tides of war, both real and cold, never wavering from its core mission. It was a fiber in the fabric of the Army and Calhoun County. But the post's 1999 closure left McClellan remnants — land and roads, homes and myriad buildings — with the same burden: the burden of time and change.
This community is still bearing that burden.
Fort McClellan drew its last breath 10 years ago today. Discussing the post's past, its importance to this community, is an enjoyable chore. But the question today shouldn't be one of historical significance.
Instead, it's this: Are we comfortable with progress made in McClellan's reinvention and the county's transformation from a region married to the military to one seeking its next life?
The answer is no.
Yes, there is progress, too much to list here. Drive through McClellan's residential areas, around its youth sports complex, over by the Center for Domestic Preparedness, and visages of life abound. Homeowners. Children. Highly trained workers. They're all part of McClellan's new, still developing reality.
But 10 years without McClellan have not produced enough long-range achievement. That military and redevelopment experts say it takes decades — many decades, not just one — to revitalize military property as large as McClellan doesn't lessen the growing sense of impatience.
The dreams of McClellan's grandiose possibilities still exist.
Granted, the list of McClellan culprits is expansive: an ineffective and now-dissolved former governing board; too many competing political interests; meddlesome and unnecessary lawsuits; and a lack of competent long-range and regional planning. That the Army left behind tons of deathly relics, mortars and grenades that can maim, is but one of the issues hindering McClellan's rebirth.
Today, McClellan rests in a state of legal limbo. Its redevelopment authority, essentially shackled, is waiting on a state Supreme Court ruling on an appeals case that could green-light McClellan progress. That's an immediate need.
On this anniversary of the post's closure, this community should reassess its views on McClellan — though the goals can't change. McClellan is an economic goldmine unlike anything in Alabama. It's a supreme opportunity for Anniston, for Calhoun County and for northeast Alabama. Squandering it would be an unforgivable mistake.
It's critical that this community honestly judges the errors of the last 10 years and ensures they aren't recurring McClellan sins. A decade of adequate progress may be marginally acceptable, but two decades of it is not.
Ten years from now, on the 20th anniversary of the post's demise, we must gaze at the past and see undeniable and remarkable signs of McClellan's potential. The status quo can't be the standard. Anything less than a McClellan on the path to potential will represent time wasted, opportunity lost, a goal unfilled.