Gary Jones, executive vice president of military affairs at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, said the campaign has been in place about a month and will run through November or early December. Initially part of the chamber, the nonprofit Columbus Chattahoochee Coalition aims to collect 25,000 signatures and present the names of voters to members of the Alabama and Georgia Congressional delegations.
The effort is visible on four billboards throughout Columbus, public service announcements in the media and programs at the local chamber.
"We have a very active campaign doing presentations to business organizations, social organizations and to churches," said Jones, a retired Army colonel. "We can tell our story and make sure everyone understands that the size of our military is not being designed by strategy," he said. "The military is being designed by budget, not a national defense strategy."
The campaign heats up as the Army cuts 2,600 of 3,600 soldiers from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team at Kelley Hill. The Army plans to reduce its force by 40,000 to 450,000 soldiers by 2017. Military leaders have said that number could be reduced further by 2019 to 420,000 soldiers.
Jones admits the current campaign won't help announced cuts with the 3rd Brigade but helps the organization defeat sequestration, a provision of the Budget Control Act of 2011. In addition to National Defense budget reductions, Jones said there is fear of another Base Realignment and Closure commission in the future.
"We have been working on this for over two years," Jones said of defending another round of cuts. "We have to work now. If you wait until a BRAC commission is announced, you are too late."
Along with the signatures, the online campaign also generated more than 1,200 comments from across the nation.
Former Columbus Mayor Bob Poydasheff, a retired Army colonel, signed the petition and said it's a good approach for citizens to show elected officials that people really care.
"To me, it's not just the economic aspect of it," Poydasheff said. "Keeping Fort Benning and making sure it is enhanced but make certain there is a realization that there are some serious problems in the world confronting the armed forces, particularly the Army."
The former mayor pointed to growing problems in Russia with President Vladimir Putin, North Korea and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the Middle East.
"To reduce the Army and reduce the training capabilities of Fort Benning just isn't good for the defense of the United States," he said. "From a personal viewpoint, economically, when you start reducing troops, people and families, purchasing power is gone, small businesses absolutely are going to be affected."
After he was elected, Poydasheff said he and City Manager Carmen Cavezza worked to enhanced the missions at Fort Benning and make units more compatible. Serving as mayor from 2003-2006, he was in office in 2005 when BRAC announced that Fort Benning would get the Armor School from Fort Knox, Ky., to create the Maneuver Center of Excellence.
Poydasheff said he served one year in Vietnam during the war.
"I spent a year there and every soldier will tell you the infantry had to be supported by armor and armor has to be supported by infantry," he said. "It's got to be combined arms and artillery. Here, you got it under one roof, the commonality of it. I'm very proud of that if we've accomplished anything."
Jones is hopeful the organization will get the 25,000 online signatures. "If we don't stop sequestration, more tough, tough times are coming," he said.
To register online, go to growbenning.com. "I'm comfortable we will get them," Jones said. "Outside the billboards that are out there there is an active campaign to defend the fort. It takes less than a minute to do it."
You click to sign in your name, email and you have the option to make a comment before hitting send. "That is it," he said.