Col. Joel Hamilton looked forward to starting his assignment in May as Fort Carson’s garrison commander with a few calm months of learning his new post and meeting people.

Little did Hamilton realize, until just before arriving, that he’d be stepping into a tough situation from his first day on the job, May 21.

When a sudden fire on May 5 shut down the Martin Drake Power Plant in downtown Colorado Springs, that quickly led to increased electrical rates — and a direct impact on Fort Carson, one of Utilities’ biggest customers.

“It did get our attention, realizing how much we’re dependent on that facility,” Hamilton said. “Fortunately, they’ve been able to get it back in operation quickly, so the effect on us wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.”

Feeling settled now after three months in the job labeled widely as “the mayor of Fort Carson,” Hamilton sat down earlier this week to talk about the Mountain Post, how well it is positioned for the future and what he expects in his scheduled two-year tenure as garrison commander.

He prefaced our conversation by saying he came back to Fort Carson (he was stationed here in a different role from 2003-08) with one clear priority — top-notch customer service for everyone affected by his command. 

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“Garrisons touch more people and organizations than any other part of the whole operation,” Hamilton said, “from plumbing to roads, training areas, retail, schools and in-processing.”

He conducted an immediate assessment, asking for feedback from every possible source. He already knew how Fort Carson has billed itself as the “Best Hometown in the Army,” and he knew Colorado Springs has long been one of the Army’s most popular destinations. But he wanted to be sure the Mountain Post lived up to all that, saying, “Fort Carson needs to be the best, and not just because of that” — pointing out his office window to the nearby mountains.

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“We’re already leaning far forward, and that’s a good thing in this era of fiscal constraints.” 

– Col. Joel Hamilton

[/pullquote]Fort Carson’s garrison stability, Hamilton realizes, “is the civilian workforce … that’s the continuity. It’s not about me, but the organization.”

Hamilton has noticed many improvements since his first stay at Carson, from the “greatly improved” housing to other construction projects for facilities and infrastructure.

He’s also proud of the noteworthy progress already made toward Fort Carson’s ahead-of-the-curve sustainability goal, established in 2011, making it one of only two posts in the U.S. Army to be “Triple Net Zero” (waste, water and energy consumption) by 2020.

Those numbers to date are indeed impressive: 16.3 percent energy reduction since fiscal year 2003, despite major population increases; rising from 3.5 percent to 45 percent renewable energy; 38 percent reduction in water intensity (consumption related to replenishment) since 2007; and 47.7 percent of waste now being recycled or reused.

Col. Hamilton inherited all that, and he’s determined to continue the momentum. In fact, just from our discussion, it’s clear Fort Carson’s leadership isn’t expecting drastic cuts in the Army’s ongoing post-war adjustments to less overall funding and lower numbers. Nobody is sitting around fearing the worst. Instead, they’re planning well into the future.

“We’ll be challenged,” Hamilton said, “and we’ll have to be much more creative. For the next fiscal year, we should be able to at least maintain where we are. We’re already leaning far forward, and that’s a good thing in this era of fiscal constraints.”

Beyond that, the garrison commander talked about Fort Carson being ready in case future cuts are deeper than envisioned. But at the same time, he says, “We’re prepared to continue growing, with plans over the next few years for more revamping and modernization.”

Though he freely admits he can’t influence whatever manpower decisions the Pentagon makes, Hamilton feels confident of Fort Carson’s continuing stature. He says that’s in part because of the 4th Infantry Division’s “balance” with Stryker, Armored, Infantry and Combat Aviation capabilities, and also because of having Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site’s 236,000 acres for training, as well as the high-altitude terrain in the region.

Add to that the Mountain Post’s long-standing positive relationship with Colorado Springs, which Hamilton already experienced from his previous stay but has reaffirmed this summer, and you understand why he’s determined to follow the lead of previous garrison commanders whose impact has been noticeable outside the boundaries of Fort Carson to include Colorado Springs.

“When it changes every two years, you get new commanders with new ideas, new initiatives and new agendas,” Hamilton said.

“But one thing I’ve already learned — you have to invest the time and effort into it to make a difference. This job is all about taking care of people.”

That’s a vital reason why Fort Carson has stood out for years as one of the Army’s most valued assets.