HINESVILLE, Ga. — Anka Hinze was skeptical a couple of weeks ago when her retired military police officer husband said he had a sense of foreboding that an overseas conflict was about to deliver a ripple effect across the Hinesville community near Fort Stewart.
Then the owner of the popular German restaurant Zum Rosenhof in downtown Hinesville noticed a change in her clientele.
“We normally have a lot of soldiers, male and females,” Hinze said Saturday afternoon at a sidewalk table outside the small restaurant. “In the last two weeks or three weeks, we noticed families coming from out of town for the visit to family members. And we’re like, OK, what is going on? We knew something was brewing, you know, overseas, but we really didn’t know what it was because it was just all hearsay.”
Thursday, President Joe Biden removed all doubt when he announced the imminent deployment of 7,000 troops to Europe. Most will come from Fort Stewart’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
Hinze said until Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine last week, her relatives back in her native Germany were also skeptical such a thing could happen. Now they worry that Ukraine is just the beginning of Russian aggression.
“Today it’s Ukraine, which is next to Poland,” Hinze said. “And next to Poland is Germany. They are worried. The distance is not so far. I mean, it’s very close. If you think about it, from the middle of Germany, the middle of Ukraine, it’s only like 20 hours by car.”
For the first time, NATO is positioning personnel “in a deterrence and defense role,” according to Pentagon officials. Soldiers from Fort Stewart and Fort Bragg, N.C., will be among a contingent of as many as 12,000 U.S. troops sent to Europe in support of NATO.
In the coming days, with the exact timing yet to be made public, Fort Stewart’s combat team will arrive at the Joint Multinational Training Center in Grafenwoehr, Germany. It will mark the second recent deployment separating family members from their loved ones who serve at Fort Stewart. Just seven months ago the unit returned to Fort Stewart from a nine-month deployment to Korea.
Georgian U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) spoke to Maj. Gen. Charles D. Costanza, the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, over the weekend, pledging support to the servicemembers and their families. Costanza said this type of short-notice deployment is especially difficult compared to the recent past when schedules are known, as has been the case over the last 20 years, according to a weekend readout of the phone conversation released by Warnock’s office. Costanza also told the senator the unit prepared to quickly and effectively deploy.
Built on 288,000 acres across Liberty, Bryan, Evans and Tatnall counties in southeast Georgia , Fort Stewart is one of the largest U.S. Army installation east of the Mississippi River. Signs are literally all over town that testify to its local importance. A water tower near the base declares Hinesville as home to the “Rock of the Marne,” a reference to the 3rd Infantry Division’s activation in 1917 during World War I, where it earned the nickname for holding a defensive position along the Marne River in France against German forces.
Many restaurants displayed messages on roadside marquees showing support for troops. Now a community still struggling to return to pre-COVID-19 norms is bracing for a new normal – again. And troops who are usually a common sight at local restaurants or places where they relax, like Doodles pool hall, were few and far between on the streets around Hinesville over the weekend.
“Our community always feels a deployment both economically and in a deeper way, when our soldiers are gone,” said Jimmy Shanken, chairman of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce. “Yes, traffic will be a little lighter, stores will be a little emptier and lines will be a little shorter, but the important thing is keeping those men and women in our thoughts and prayers, as well as continuing to support the families that they leave behind in our communities. As a veteran, my family understands these hardships and so many other things that military families face that most never realize. So yes, we know that this may affect our economy but that certainly is not a concern when you factor in the very human side of what deploying means.”
In a town where service runs deep, the desire for a safe and swift return goes far beyond financial incentives, Shanken said.
“Yes, businesses do depend in a lot of ways on people who are military affiliated, however, as a community we have also learned a lot in the last 15 years with consistent deployments about diversifying income streams and attracting people from other areas to our community to help subsidize any losses,” Poole said. “This is also, so far, a different deployment with one brigade going, not the whole division, that will make absorbing the economic impact a lot lighter. We just want everyone home safe as soon as possible.”
Shanken is a veteran, as are 22.3% of residents of the Hinesville metro area, a much higher proportion than Georgia as a whole at 5.9%.
A 2021 study by researchers at Georgia Southern University found that Fort Stewart accounted for just over $3 billion in economic output for the Hinesville metro area and brought about 23,000 jobs to the area, including more than 17,000 people directly employed to support its local operations.
For family-owned businesses like Hinze’s, news of imminent deployments from Fort Stewart often spreads through the community by word of mouth among the service member’s family but is not shared with outsiders.
“Families, you know, you never talk about planning, you just don’t do that,” Hinze said. “But me being a military wife, we would talk to each other, you know.”
In the nearly two decades since Hinze opened Zum Rosenhof, she’s seen Hinesville go through peacekeeping deployments to Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq. She says the level of concern among the military families visiting her restaurant is ratcheted up this time compared to those missions.
“They tell us, you know, they worry, because it’s a scary situation,” she said. “Because it’s not knowing about the mission,” Hinze said. “Some say, ‘oh, yeah, this is not about peacekeeping, if there are bombs and shots being fired.’ For us, that’s not peacekeeping.”
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