Looking out of his office window at the flurry of activity and construction surrounding the Army Cyber Command at Fort Gordon, Col. Todd Turner said he sees nothing but growth and a strong future ahead for the entire Augusta area.
“When we talk about the Army Cyber headquarters, people are always asking me, ‘Is this all conceptual?’” said Turner, the garrison commander for Fort Gordon. “The answer is, ‘No. We are in execution. We are executing a $1.6 billion build plan.’”
Just last November, Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning joined local, state and federal officials along with senior Army leaders to break ground on the new Army Cyber headquarters at Fort Gordon.
Over the next several years, crews will be constructing a state-of-the-art headquarters for Army cyberspace operations at the fort, which is already home to the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence.
During the first phase of construction, new facilities supporting Army Cyber Operations and Command and Control functions are planned to be completed by May 2018 at a cost of approximately $85 million.
A second phase of construction to support Cyber Protection Team operations is expected to be finished by early 2019.
The Army Cyber Command Complex will accommodate more than 1,200 cyber military personnel and civilians by late 2020, Turner said.
“Just in the last 10 years, the military, the Department of Defense and the interagencies have put about $1.2 billion into Fort Gordon,” Turner said. “And, in the next 10 years, right now we are looking at $1.6 billion planned for construction.”
For many people in the Augusta area, those are mind-boggling numbers for the future growth of Fort Gordon.
Each day puts Fort Gordon closer to the transformation of the Cyber Center of Excellence and the arrival of the Army Cyber Command.
“Obviously, everybody is very much focused on cyber these days,” Turner said. “So, in January of 2014, the Army directed us to convert the Signal Center of Excellence to the Cyber Center of Excellence. So we are just about three years into that.”
Construction at the base is clearly a well-planned operation and a significant investment in Fort Gordon by the military.
“In the current budget cycle, we have about two-thirds of the military construction to build the new campus. So our main effort is going to be building the new campus,” Turner said, adding that the fort has recently completed an additional 10 top-secret classrooms to teach cyber.
“Secondary to the new campus, but probably equally important, is the Army Cyber headquarters that just broke ground this past November,” he said.
The top-secret Army Cyber Command Complex will be co-located with the $286 million National Security Agency’s cryptologic center that opened at Fort Gordon in 2012.
Known as NSA Georgia, approximately 4,000 civilian and military workers trained in linguistics and cryptology work at the equally top-secret facility.
“And, next year, we will break ground with our Cyber Protection Team facility,” Turner said. “The brand new campus and the new operational Army Cyber headquarters coming down here will move from several different facilities up in the Maryland/Virginia area and will co-locate here in 2020.”
By 2019, the Augusta area will already begin to see a greater influx of people coming to work at the fort, Turner said.
“We believe they will start having workers come here in 2019 because they will start building up their workforce, so that will be the next big catalyst for change for us,” Turner said. “Frankly, the Army is going to have some dual hires. They will have the same position hired here and up there in Fort Meade or the Fort Belvoir area and, at some point, either that position will go away or they will migrate here. But we know for sure the flag will come here in 2020.”
The delivery of the flag in 2020 will truly symbolize the Defense Department’s decision to name Fort Gordon as the Army Cyber Command Center and relocate some of Fort Meade’s personnel from the Maryland/Washington D.C. area to Augusta.
“Right now, the Army considers us a medium installation, but I can tell you that we are definitely growing,” Turner said, adding that cyber security is the upmost importance to the entire country.
“The importance of our mission is growing for our nation. It is obviously mentioned in our National Security Strategy. You have heard President Trump mention it several times during the election, so we know the value and importance of our mission.”
Fort Gordon’s historic role as the Signal Center of Excellence has helped shape that mission, Turner said.
“We have the premiere communications probably in the world,” he said.
“Honestly, we have never had as good as communications as we have today. And, frankly, cyber relies on that communication. The foundation of cyber is the Signal Corps.”
And the impact of Fort Gordon’s role in the Army is felt worldwide, he said.
“A lot of folks on the outside of these gates do not realize that we are supporting the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan every day and really around the world,” Turner said.
“Fort Gordon historically has been looked at as just a little training base and maybe folks didn’t think a whole lot was going on, but now it is an operational platform. All that being said, that’s certainly a catalyst for growth.”
Currently, Fort Gordon is working extremely hard to prepare for that future growth, Turner said.
“Here at Fort Gordon, the total population is about 25,000,” Turner said. “We also have about 2,500 contractors that come to Fort Gordon, so we get more than 27,000 folks on the fort each day. And on special occasions, like graduation day with families coming in, we reach about 30,000 folks that are on the fort.”
With that many people headed to Fort Gordon each day and more soon to come, Turner said officials at the fort are working with the Georgia Department of Transportation to help alleviate some of the traffic delays around the gates.
“When you talk about traffic flow, there is all this growth that has occurred and there has been a lot of new neighborhoods that have been developed,” Turner said. “Once the neighborhoods start coming, now you have the tax base to develop some of the road networks and the infrastructure. So, we are working closely with the Georgia Department of Transportation to help shift some of the traffic pressures.”
It is imperative for Fort Gordon’s workforce to get on base in a timely manner without a great deal of hassle, Turner said.
“Fortunately, we are also going to have a new gate built to help the traffic flow,” he said. “But it is going to take some time because there are some other things that need to be done with the corridors. But the goal is for those working at the fort to have a relatively short commute to work.”
Turner also said it is extremely important for the general public to feel as if Fort Gordon is a part of the community and that they can also have access to the base’s amenities such as Hilltop Riding Stable, the disc golf course, the bike trails, bowling and the archery and skeet ranges.
“We want the community to see us as Hephzibah, Martinez or Evans. We are just the city next door,” Turner said.
“And, if you have a valid reason to come on the fort and you want to use one our facilities, we want to welcome the local community.”
A few years ago, the Department of Defense issued a directive that those non-military personnel working at the fort and those visiting the installation would be required to go through a background check.
Initially, the gates did experience some backlog, but Turner explained that, over the past summer, Fort Gordon worked hard to smoothly implement the background checks and new gate requirements.
“We have no backlog now,” Turner said. “If you are going to a gate, and you just want access today, you should have that within about 5 to 8 minutes. If you have a reason to be on post, such as you are attending one of our Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs and you want a 12-month pass, you should be able to get that in 72 hours. It is a card you can swipe and come through. So, we have done significant work to make the gate access better and it has had a tremendous impact on our relationship with the local community.”
Just this past weekend, Fort Gordon hosted the Marine Mud Challenge which is a tremendously popular event that is growing larger each year, Turner said.
“This year, we are also going to host the Professional Disc Golf World Championship here at Fort Gordon in June,” he said. “And of course, we will have our Independence Day Celebration this year on Friday, June 30. That is always a hit. Last year, we had Cole Swindell at the celebration and we had 35,000 neighbors come to the fort that day. This year, we have Randy Houser, which is another country artist, and we are looking forward to that and inviting everyone to the fort.”
Having the surrounding community come and enjoy the fort is extremely important, but equally valuable is the tremendous support shown to the base and the military personnel by the entire Augusta area, Turner said.
“For example, Thunder Over Evans is an event that makes us feel a part of this community,” Turner said, referring to the largest privately funded Armed Forces Day celebration that will be held this year at Evans Towne Center Park on Saturday, May 20. “It is an event that honors our veterans and our fallen, those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom and our way of life, so we are very grateful to the local community.”
Thunder Over Evans was started by three local businessmen — Donnie Thompson, Andy Jones and the late Dale Phelon — who wanted to give something back to the men and women who serve this country.
It is the perfect opportunity to bring together the public and the military for a fun-filled day of free events and to honor those who have served in the Armed Forces.
Those kinds of events mean the world to military families and soldiers at Fort Gordon, Turner said.
“This has got to be one of the most supportive military communities around,” Turner said of the entire CSRA.
“Most communities are supportive, but if you look at a lot of military bases, they have fairly small towns outside the gates, so those towns rely heavily on that fort. This area has about 600,000 people in the greater Augusta area. Only about 100,000, which is still pretty high, have some kind of tie to Fort Gordon or the military or the Department of Defense.”
While the Augusta area definitely benefits from being home to Fort Gordon, it has a great deal of other local economic engines, Turner said.
“I would say, if Fort Gordon was not necessarily here, Augusta would definitely still go on,” Turner said. “They have the university, the medical district, the Masters, SRS, Plant Vogtle, the list goes on and on. So, the Augusta area has a lot of other things going on for it, but to have as much as this community has going on and to be as supportive as they are of Fort Gordon is very impressive.”
“So we are very grateful to the local community and some of those senior leaders in the community that really work tremendously hard to orchestrate events like Thunder Over Evans,” he added. “It means a lot.”
Of course, the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon insists that the fort is, above and beyond, a vital member of this entire community.
According to the CSRA Alliance, which was created in 2003 by the late Congressman Charlie Norwood, Fort Gordon remains the area’s largest employer with about 24,000 military, civilian and contractor employees, which is a growth of more than 6,000 employees since 2002.
The estimated total economic impact of the fort is more than $2.4 billion annually, the CSRA Alliance reports.
Also, area school districts receive approximately $1.2 million annually in impact aid, which is funding provided by the Department of Education to compensate for federal employees who do not pay property or Georgia state taxes because they live in government housing or they are out-of-state residents.
But even more importantly, the alliance estimates that Fort Gordon service members, civilians and family members volunteer more than 90,000 man hours annually in area schools, nursing homes, food banks and community activities and events.
However, Turner insists that when local leaders in the Augusta area are so generous with their time and efforts to support military families, it makes Fort Gordon want to give even more back to the community.
“For example, last Friday, we did our Adopt-A-School Program kick off,” Turner said. “We partnered a battalion or brigade and we sign an agreement that says that military unit will be the partner organization to the public high school district, as well as the feeder schools that feed into that district, both public and private.”
The purpose of the program is to increase public awareness of the Army’s mission and to foster good relations with the local communities.
“Honestly, the first thing that I get asked by our folks moving to this area is, frankly, about the schools here,” Turner said. “That’s typically the number one concern for parents. They want quality education for their children.”
Therefore, it is important for military personnel to help support the local school systems by tutoring, volunteering, coaching or mentoring to students.
“Whether that means they are guest speakers at Veterans Day or Memorial Day events, or judging science fairs or helping with field day or assisting with the training of JROTC, we just want folks in uniform to be supportive of our schools,” Turner said. “We want to help. We want the students to see these uniforms and know that there are a lot of opportunities out there. We want them to know we are part of this community and we are here to help.”