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Green Berets Touching Base in Florida

7th Special Forces HQ
The Green Berets' new home occupies 500 acres.

Green Berets returning from overseas will settle into a new home base that's three times larger than their previous quarters at Fort Bragg, N.C. The $400-million cantonment, with 5.1-million square feet of buildings, occupies 500 acres of former pinewoods on the sprawling Eglin Air Force Base, its entry roads posting reminders of bears and deer that may share the terrain.

The 7th Special Forces personnel total some 2,200 soldiers, who typically alternate six months on base with a similar period overseas. By late summer, they're expected to complete the move, which was mandated by a 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decision. Most will bring families, increasing the population surge to 6,000 or more and creating an expected economic impact of $506 million this year — and growing. The development has already meant jobs — some 700 in construction alone — and millions in contracts for local businesses.

This is not your typical Army unit, says Joey Walker, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' resident project engineer. Special Forces soldiers are highly trained, most are bilingual and they typically serve 20-year careers from their permanent base, he says. And they integrate into the community.

That translates into home sales and rentals and retail spending, says Jeff Fanto, Okaloosa County's growth project coordinator. "Five hundred families are here already,'' says Kay Rasmussen, vice president with the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council. Home and apartment development is up substantially in Crestview, the cantonment's closest community. Residential builder Henry Co. Homes reports selling 25 homes in 2010 at Crestview and Navarre to Special Forces families.

Special Forces' New Home
Special Forces' New Home

» Four 150,000-sq.-ft. battalion buildings

» 65,000-sq.-ft. group headquarters

» Three 96-bed barracks for singles

» Combat-readiness training facility

» Dining hall, medical center and chapel

» Canine training facility

» Parachute-rigging tower and an unmanned aerial vehicle building

» Post exchange, fast-food outlet, gas station

» Logistics support building

» Marine operations center