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Killeen prepares for impact of war

March 26, 2003

By Kirsten Rockwood

As home of the largest military base in the continental United States, the economy and lifestyle of Killeen is expected to experience the effects of the ongoing deployment of soldiers from Fort Hood.

Local businesses, churches and schools are expected to have to deal with different problems as civilians cope with deployed family members and missing business, although 'we're not really concerned about the impact as we were during Desert Storm,' said Roy Wolfe, president of Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce. 'Our population has grown so much, and we're an entirely different city now than we were in 1991.'

The population of Killeen stands at 102,000, but this figure doesn't include the approximately 23,000 residents of the base at Fort Hood.

Many businesses near the base, although expecting a decrease in sales as more soldiers leave their homes for war, have not experience any significant change in transactions.

T.G.I. Friday's, which receives approximately 85 percent of its lunch business from Fort Hood, hasn't seen any decrease in sales.

'We kind of expected a change, but we're holding on strong,' Bob Blackett, a manager, said. 'However, we are trying to get more and more involved with the community. I have given out coupons for discounts aiding with and supporting school events and such.'

As the main deployment of troops has not taken place yet, Pat McDonald, minister of education and administration of First Baptist Church in Killeen, said he sees an increase in church attendance of military personnel until they are sent overseas.

'With any type of combat, there is always an increase in knowledge of 'I'm a mortal, and in war there are always casualites,'' McDonald said. 'You want to reassess your relationship with the Lord. I am not talking about a new spiritual awakening - we're not quite there yet, but we certainly see a new sense of defining who they are as an individual and their relationship with Christ.'

McDonald said that more marriages had taken place in the past few weeks, as engaged couples wanted to tie the knot before a loved one would ship out.

Area lawyers are seeing almost the opposite effect from the last war in the gulf, as filings for divorce have increased in the past few weeks.

According to Michael Rizzo, attorney at law with Young and Libersky in Killeen, marriages picked up significantly before Desert Storm. 'I guess kids are smarter this time,' he said. 'Spouses would get money [from military salaries] but wouldn't pay bills. Soldiers came back to find they were hugely in debt.'

As most Killeen area schools are on spring break, the news of the outbreak of war has yet to take effect in curriculum or counseling programs.

At Killeen Adventist Junior Academy, children are encouraged to talk and pray about their feelings.

'We don't have any counselors, but we try to be like a close family group,' Melanie Stroud, a teacher, said. 'we're a Christian based school, and there's a lot of prayer and intervention like that on a daily basis anyway.'