Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts has always had a close relationship with Fort Campbell and since taking office in January, he says he’s working to make it even stronger — even if it’s one cookie or bag of spicy chips at a time.
Pitts, along with his wife, Cindy, and Bill Harpel, military liaison for the city, served lunch to a group of hungry Soldiers Oct. 23 during Warrior Wednesday at USO Fort Campbell.
When Pitts was elected mayor, he and his staff “we wanted to be actively engaged with Fort Campbell, not just with the command staff level but throughout the ranks,” he said. “[This] was an opportunity to meet those mostly single Soldiers who were looking for food and fellowship, and a friendly face.”
Pitts said his wife also has been working to make closer connections at Fort Campbell.
“Cindy has been extremely active since the election meeting with Karen Bell, wife of Col. Jeremy Bell, garrison commander, and dozens of others on post to provide a linkage to the city for the families of the Soldiers,” he said.
Joe Pitts grew up on Peachers Mill Road and his father served in the Army and was a Korean War veteran. Both his parents also worked on post as civilians, so he spent a lot of time at Fort Campbell.
Pitts said he understands the economic impact of Fort Campbell on the entire surrounding community and added “the post serves as a point of immense pride for our community and region.”
“When the world is in trouble, the Soldiers of Fort Campbell are among the first to be called,” Pitts said. “But there is something almost as important as the Soldiers’ role in our national defense. It is their role as our extended Family. It may sound trite, but it is true. They manufacture world peace as a livelihood, but they are Family to us in Clarksville-Montgomery County and this region.”
Pitts said he is very deliberate in making sure Fort Campbell is central to his decision-making process. In addition to Harpel, Pitts lured James Halford out of retirement to be his chief of staff. Halford retired from Fort Campbell garrison in 2017 and “has helped us straighten the learning curve to connect with the garrison office on post.”
Part of Pitts’ platform during his election was to establish or re-establish relationships with military leaders and others in our regions.
“During the campaign I often said, ‘everyday should be Veterans Day in Clarksville-Montgomery County,’” he said. “Now I’ve got the great honor to help make that happen.”
Pitts has been meeting with command staff and the garrison officials. Earlier this year he was invited to discuss Intergovernmental Service Agreements and how local municipalities might provide services on post to help save money.
“Everything from facilities maintenance to animal control was on the table,” Pitts said. “We are in the final discussions for a short list of opportunities for the city of Clarksville to help. This is a tangible way we can help strengthen the relationship.”
‘Thank you for serving’
But last week, the conversations Pitts had with Soldiers were a little less serious.
He passed out potato chips at the USO.
Many who came through his lunch line were surprised to find out he was mayor of Clarksville.
“Thank you for serving us,” one Soldier said.
“Thank you for serving us,” Joe Pitts said.
Specialist Kareen Guy, A Co., 526th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), came through on crutches and Harpel was quick to grab a plate and load it up for him.
He didn’t know Pitts was serving up lunch but was impressed, Guy said.
“I’ll definitely vote for him,” Guy said.
Ties that bind
Fort Campbell not only borders Clarksville, but also is the home for many of its Soldiers.
Soldiers and their Families make a difference in the city and Clarksville officials want to make a difference for them, Pitts said.
“Perhaps it took me 60 years to realize how important our relationship with Fort Campbell has become to my family and to our community,” he said. “I am very excited to see how we can better serve our Fort Campbell Family. We’ve had some wonderful days in the past, and some not so wonderful days. The Gander crash comes to mind. But our best days are ahead.”
That is where Pitts’ vision is focused.
“If I say ‘I’m a cheerleader’ that would diminish the importance of Fort Campbell,” he said. “So let’s just say that I am unashamedly a staunch, vocal and steadfast supporter of the mission, the people and the presence of Fort Campbell. Why? Look around. The Soldiers and their Families serve us sacrificially, so the very least we can do is make their lives better by lending our support.”
Sometimes that support is something as minor as passing out roast beef sandwiches, cookies and chips. Pitts lost count out of how many he passed out, but more than 200 bags of chips were claimed by Soldiers.
“I was more focused on interacting with the women and men who came through the line,” he said. “Cindy is always a big help. With her mother’s heart she wanted to give each person two sandwiches. And Bill made it fun.”
Pitts said there are more plans in the future.
“We will have some holiday activities too, so stay tuned for more information on those things,” he said.
Pitts said Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett and his wife, Mary, are also working diligently with him to strengthen the relationship with the Fort Campbell Family.
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of Fort Campbell to our community,” Pitts said. “And during my term in office, I will ensure the city of Clarksville is viewed extremely favorably by everyone at Fort Campbell — civilians and Soldiers alike. That takes effort and work. I’m not afraid of either one.”