In the News

Barksdale, Fort Polk score wins in defense bill; military COVID vaccine mandate dropped

Shreveport Times: Greg Hilburn

Congress has included almost $300 million for specific Louisiana military capital projects from Barksdale Air Force Base to Fort Polk to New Orleans in the annual defense bill that also included an amendment to drop the military's COVID vaccine mandate under the objection of President Biden's administration.

The House passed the record $858 billion defense spending bill Thursday. It will return to the Senate, where final passage is expected quickly before landing on Biden's desk for his signature.

Among the projects being funded in Louisiana are a new nuclear weapons facility at Barksdale and a new Joint Operations Center at Fort Polk.

"This bill is a tremendous success for Louisiana and the country at large," said Republican Congressman Mike Johnson, the only member of the Louisiana delegation on the Armed Services Committee, in an interview with USA Today Network. "It really addressed virtually all of our major priorities for Barksdale, Fort Polk and beyond."

Johnson was also among those praising the amendment dropping the COVID vaccine requirement, contending it has had "a devastating effect on recruiting and readiness. I'm overjoyed by the repeal of the vaccine mandate," he said.

Republican Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, who has been elected majority leader for the next Congress, tweeted about dropping the vaccine mandate: "RT if you agree → The Biden Administration must not block troops who were discharged for not getting the COVID vaccine from re-enlisting now that Republicans have gotten the mandate eliminated."

Following are funding highlights for Louisiana military bases and programs:
Barksdale Air Force Base
$125 million: Construction of a weapons generation facility. This funding builds upon the $40 million secured last year for this project and enables Barksdale to become a nuclear weapons Air Force Base. Currently, B-52s stationed at Barksdale must fly to North Dakota to be armed with nuclear weapons. "This presents national security and efficiency issues, and the construction of a weapons generation facility at Barksdale will solidify its place as one of America’s most important military installations," Johnson said.

Fort Polk Joint Readiness Training Center
$61 million: Construction of a new Joint Operations Center. The Joint Operations Center is the command station for all of the training activities conducted at Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center. This funding builds upon the $55 million secured last year for the project to ensure soldiers have the most realistic training experience possible to be prepared for combat.

$41 million: Construction of a new Child Development Center. Fort Polk operates three outdated child development centers that are crowded and require constant maintenance. This project will build a new facility to serve more than 300 children ages 6 months to 5 years.

$35.36 million: Construction of information system facility. This project will upgrade mechanical and data-sharing systems at Fort Polk to support other upgrades that will enhance the training experience to ensure Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center remain the premier combat training center of the U.S. Army.

Louisiana National Guard
$1.65 million: Planning and design work for an Army National Guard Readiness Center in Abbeville.

$1.65 million: Planning and design work for an Air National Guard Munitions Administrative Facility in New Orleans.

Air Force B-52 program
$735 million (Barksdale and other installations): The B-52 remains the backbone of the U.S. bomber force and will remain so for years to come. This funding continues to support the aircraft and give it the capabilities it needs to maintain a tactical advantage.

Long-range standoff weapon development
$929 million (Barksdale and other installations): The B-52 is able to carry air-launched cruise missiles, but they are becoming obsolete. The-long range standoff weapon is a new air-launched cruise missile currently being developed.