Fort Carson officials and soldiers from its 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division met with visitors and reporters Saturday at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site to celebrate the successful completion of its most expansive training exercise in more than a decade.
In the three weeks leading to that day, 4,000 troops and 1,100 military vehicles were training at the 235,000-acre installation, which the Army has used for military training exercises since it acquired the land 32 years ago in Las Animas County, southeast of Pueblo.
The most recent exercise was spurred by the Pentagon’s approval to expand training to include the Army’s eight-wheeled, armored Stryker fighting vehicles, which can be outfitted for many different wartime purposes.
“Our brigades or other maneuver elements at Fort Carson are able to come down here and really perform those tasks that they need to achieve success on our battlefields,” said Maj. Gen. Ryan Gonsalves, commander, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson.
Due to the site’s geographical diversity — the presence of grassland, canyons and the Purgatoire River — the property is ideal for simulating combat conditions and preparing soldiers for real-world circumstances.
“The Army expects each of its brigade combat teams to be able to be proficient in numerous tasks, and we were able to achieve that here to a standard that we couldn’t achieve anywhere else,” said Col. David Hodne, commander of the 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div. “It’s important to piece it all together, because it is about trust and confidence in formation,” he said. “It builds a better team at-large, which is one of the values of training here at Piñon Canyon.”
Once at the site, Army personnel were engaged in “three battle periods, two offensive operations and a series of defensive operations,” Hodne said, describing the large efforts as “brigade-level maneuvers.”
Despite Piñon Canyon’s strategic importance to Fort Carson, in recent years it has attracted negative attention from activists and members of nearby communities who express concern that military activity could adversely affect the natural landscape and culturally significant sites within its borders.
But despite those concerns, as well as fears that the federal government will continue to expand the program, Trinidad Mayor Joe Reorda has been a steadfast supporter of Fort Carson and its activities at PCMS.
“We would like to have a company, a battalion, a whatever, of men here every day, 365 days a year,” Reorda said. “I support this program and the military 150 percent. Anything I can do I will do. I told them I would walk down here today if I have to.”
Gonsalves assured the crowd his men will continue to maintain the environmental and cultural integrity of the land.
“We understand the sensitivity: politically sensitive, economically sensitive and naturally sensitive aspects of this piece of ground,” he said. “My soldiers did everything they could to protect the environment.”