FLETC luncheon

Thomas Walters, right, director of the FLETC facility in Brunswick, congratulates Woody Woodside after presenting him with a plaque Wednesday for his longtime support as president of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce.

The impact to the local economy by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center cannot be overstated.

During a speech Thursday, Director Thomas Walters explained the training center’s history, its relationship with the surrounding community and the challenging missions facing the graduates who go on to serve in a variety of law enforcement positions nationwide.

Established in Brunswick in 1975, the center’s staff of more than 2,400 employees trains anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 students every day, with more than 35,000 graduates expected over the next five years.

An estimated $11 million in small business contracts are awarded each year, supporting the local economy even more.

The center has housing but an estimated 800 trainees stay in local motels and hotels at any given time, generating lots of business for local merchants. Tourist season can be problematic, with some trainees having to stay in rooms as far as Savannah and Jacksonville, he said.

Walters began his speech by thanking the community for the help FLETC employees received during the government shutdown in January. The shutdown helped make people realize the training center is “essential to national security,” he said.

Though the shutdown forced many staff members to stay home, Thomas said training continued.

“We managed to keep the same number of trainees going through the pipeline,” he said. “We had half the staff working twice as hard.”

There are now 1,812 people serving in a variety of jobs because of the work done by employees during the shutdown, he said.

Changing technologies have led to a variety of new programs to do things such as analyze and extract information from cellphone chips and conduct covert surveillance.

The center is finding ways to save money such as the $1 million in savings by recovering firing range debris.

The center also has an impact on the nation because of the jobs performed by graduates to protect the nation.

One of the big challenges is at Mexican border where a growing number of people try to illegally cross into the United States after sometimes traveling more than 1,000 miles. They often come from areas where there is very little information about their pasts.

“We only know what they are telling us,” he said. “DHS is taking extraordinary measures to deal with this. We are facing a systemwide meltdown.”

Border security is changing but Thomas, who began his career as a border patrol agent, said the agency is not built for custodial care. But the agents are also empathetic to those trying to cross our border.

“They are sensitive to the people they are encountering,” he said. “Our agents do their jobs with integrity.”

At the end of the speech, Thomas called Woody Woodside to the podium to present him with a plaque for his many years of service as president of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce.

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