By Tammy Sharp
LEEVILLE, LA.–Chris Ausbun, former garrison command sergeant major at Fort Polk and originally from Colorado, just recently retired after serving 23 years in the Army.
Faced with the decision of where to spend his retirement, he and his family didn’t hesitate to choose Leesville, despite the reputation that being stationed at Fort Polk has among soldiers and their families.
“Fort Polk is not looked on as a good assignment,” he said. “It’s a false narrative based on soldiers’ experiences in the Box.”
The Box, short for “sandbox,” at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk tests battle strategies and the readiness of Army soldiers before deployment. Basically, it’s the best training in the world for a soldier on the cusp of being sent to battle. But there’s nothing pleasant about it.
“Soldiers don’t like the Box,” said Ausbun, “because it’s designed to be difficult.”
For most months of the year, soldiers from other installations across the nation travel to Fort Polk to receive training at the JRTC. Brig. Gen. David S. Doyle, commanding general of JRTC and Fort Polk, in a recent trip to Fort Hood, explained that the United States has an Army to fight and win its wars.
“That’s why we exist, and in order to do that we have to be prepared for any type of operation in any type of environment,” he said. “At the Joint Readiness Training Center, we predominantly train infantry brigade combat teams in large-scale combat operations so that, if they are called upon to go forward and deploy, they can use combined arms tools … to fight and win.”
But not all soldiers who come to Fort Polk will work in the Box, said Ausbun. Instead, some soldiers stationed at Fort Polk will typically support the rotations at the JRTC and, because of the leadership at Fort Polk, will also receive the best training possible.
Who wouldn’t want their soldier to receive the best training possible?
“They’re going to be the highest trained in the military,” said Ausbun, of soldiers stationed at Fort Polk. And their families will benefit as well. “The families will be taken care of very well because of the phenomenal garrison team.”
Ausbun said he and his wife weren’t thrilled when they received their orders for Fort Polk.
“We did have misgivings,” he said. But the reality is so much better, he said, speaking of an incident that helped his wife: a community crawfish boil at Anderson Farms where everyone was breaking bread together and smiling.
“It’s not too often you get to see that, local, hometown professionalism,” he said of the experience.
As the garrison command sergeant major, Ausbun had a lot of opportunity to interact with mayors, chambers of commerce and the school systems, he said. “We’re just surrounded by good people who want to make a difference.”
“My kids love it,” he added.
The Ausbuns have four children, a daughter, 22, who lives in Virginia with her Navy wife; a son, 21, who is a combat medic in the Army and stationed in Georgia; another son, 18, who attends Leesville High School, graduating May of 2022; and another daughter, 13, who attends Leesville Junior HIgh School.
Both of his school-aged children are doing well in school, Ausbun said. “The teachers truly care about students and will sit down one on one.
“In fact, the principal at LHS, Scott Mawae, personally walked my son around,” he added.
In addition, the support that the community offers veterans in the area is stellar, he said.
“For a lot of places, it’s a slogan, but here, it’s true. You feel it [veteran support] every day.
“We’ve been all over the United States,” Ausbun said. “The people here, the way people are treated is the reason my wife and I chose to stay here.”