Returning solidiers boost Columbus, Georgia economy

Waiting for Staff Sgt. William Fields to arrive last week from a yearlong deployment to Iraq, Kim Fields didn’t hesitate when asked what her husband would want most for his homecoming.

"Baby back ribs from Applebee's. We're going to go there once he gets off the plane," said Fields, explaining the meatloaf and cabbage she had made at home would have to wait.

In conversations with troops and Columbus-area businesses, it's clear that the 3,600 3rd Brigade soldiers returning from their long overseas tour of duty aren’t just looking for favorite meals.

They’re longing for bigger and costlier things — motorcycles, digital televisions, stereo equipment and new wheels — and have the cash to make it happen. That, in turn, creates a sizable splash in the local economy.

“A lot of those guys just got off the plane, so we’re seeing a ton of them roll through here,” said Tommy McKenzie, co-owner of Custom Radio, a 33-year-old auto stereo and home theater company on Manchester Expressway.

“In fact, I sold a system that we’re putting in Monday,” he said. “The guy had just gotten off the plane probably an hour and a half ago (Wednesday) and came up here with his dad. His car was on the way from New Jersey down here, and he had already planned his system. As soon as the car gets here, he’s ready to go.”

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