FORT STEWART, Ga. – On weekends, 24-year-old Army Pfc. Keith Smith used to drive 45 miles to Savannah to find a nightclub with hip-hop music, single women and a bar open well past midnight.
But now he can do his drinking, dancing and lookin’ for love just blocks from his Fort Stewart billet, without even leaving the Army post.
Commanders at Fort Stewart, home of the 19,000-soldier 3rd Infantry Division, noticed troops had little nightlife nearby. Fort Stewart had one sports bar that shut down after the war began, and its bingo nights and Western-theme dance club, decorated with John Wayne posters, did not exactly appeal to troops raised on video games and hip-hop.
Knowing booze and dance tunes wouldn’t be enough, commanders also eased security restrictions at the post’s front gate to encourage civilians – namely women, who get free admission between 10 p.m. and midnight Fridays and Saturdays – to party at Rocky’s, which opened recently.
At Rocky’s lights above the dance floor flash to the beat of a sound system loud enough to vibrate the candlelit tabletops. The main bar area has 18 flat-screen TVs and 10 video-game kiosks that are networked so troops can play head-to-head in shootouts. There is also a mini-theater where troops can watch DVDs on a 120-inch screen with surround-sound speakers.
“I was thinking, it’s a bar on post, it’s got to be run-down or something. But when I got here, I was surprised,” said Pvt. Rodney Webster, 21, of Dodge City, Kan., who is a repeat customer.
One of the greatest challenges Fort Stewart faced with Rocky’s: Only 9 percent of soldiers here are women.
“You’ve got to have the ladies,” said Staff Sgt. Tim Brinson, 28, of Thomasville, Ga., an Army truck driver who moonlights as the club’s DJ. “If the ladies don’t come, there’s no reason for the guys to come.”
Post commanders realized this and decided to give Rocky’s civilian customers, male or female, easier access through the gates. Instead of having to park their cars at the gate to register for a pass, civilians can request a special pass to Rocky’s from a gate guard, show a driver’s license and drive on through.
Fort Stewart has issued at least 1,000 Rocky’s passes since the club opened.
“We had to weigh the force-protection risk vs. the risk to our soldiers of drinking and driving,” Buchs said. “Is it a risk we’re willing to accept? Yes.”
On a recent Friday night, women accounted for about 40 percent of the nightclub’s customers.
Jessica Kunkle, 19, of neighboring Ludowici checked out Rocky’s with her friend Veni Thelin, the wife of a Fort Stewart soldier. (Rocky’s allows patrons 18 and up, but only those 21 and older get a wristband allowing them to buy alcohol.)
“I’m looking to meet people and have a good time,” Kunkle said. “I don’t think it feels like you’re on an Army post.”
So, you guys who are reluctant to enlist and be sent to dangerous Baghdad; ask the recruiter to assign you to Ft.Stewart where you can defend America in safety, hang out at the bar, and not worry about roadside bombs.