Despite the pending troop cuts at Fort Carson announced last week by the Pentagon, the Colorado Springs post will end 2017 with a slightly larger force than in 2012.
News came last week that Fort Carson will lose 365 of its current active-duty population of 23,349 soldiers as part of a cross-cutting Army initiative to downsize by 40,000 troops.
“Fort Carson will incur a minimal loss of personnel due to the Department of the Army’s force restructure plans,” 4th Infantry Division officials wrote in a statement last week. “The reduction consists of a 25 percent decrease of the 4th Infantry Division headquarters in line with the Army decision for all two-star and above headquarters. Also, the armored brigade combat team will be reorganized in line with the Army 2020 initiative. Additionally, explosive ordnance disposal company elements will be affected.”
But it could have been much worse.
The Supplemental Environmental Assessment for 2020 Army realignment was announced last year and marked Fort Carson, along with other Army installations, for a worst-case-scenario cut of up to 16,000 active-duty personnel. Such a cut would have downsized the Mountain Post by two-thirds and created a negative economic impact of around $1 billion in the Pikes Peak region, according to estimates by the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.
Instead, the Army conservatively chose to cut 40,000 active-duty personnel across 30 installations (as opposed to a potential cut of 70,000) as well as 17,000 civilians. Daneta Johnson, public affairs chief of media relations at Fort Carson, said the details of civilian cuts will be announced sometime this fall.
Carson was one of the lucky posts, according to Andy Merritt, chief defense industry officer for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. He estimated the economic impact on Colorado Springs to be around $25 million — a fraction of what the city had been preparing for in recent months.
“This is such a huge relief,” Merritt said. “It’s great news.”
Other installations weren’t as fortunate.
Fort Benning in Georgia will lose 3,402, or 29 percent, of its 12,655 troops; Fort Hood in Texas will lose 3,350, or 9 percent, of its 37,475 troops; and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska will lose 2,631, or 59 percent, of its 4,603 troops.
Although the number of active-duty personnel stationed at Fort Carson will drop from 23,349 to 22,984 when the cuts are implemented in 2017, the installation will still be 317 soldiers stronger than it was in 2012, according to Army documents. That is due, in part, to incremental restructuring and relocation caused by three years of federal budget sequestration, kickstarted by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
The most recent of those gains came in May when the 4th Infantry Division activated its Division Artillery unit, which provides command-and-control for three combat brigade team fires sections. That activation included 100 new soldiers with the 214th Fires Brigade relocated from Fort Sill, Okla.
The Mountain Post also soon will gain a Grey Eagle Company, which commands a fleet of the military’s largest unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), also called the Grey Eagles.
Although the news has been far less drastic than feared, Fort Carson officials remain concerned about the potential for more downsizing in the future.
“We will not speculate on any future force restructuring decisions. However, if sequestration occurs every Army installation, including Fort Carson, has the potential to be impacted by further force reductions,” Carson officials said in the statement.
“This is such a huge relief. It’s great news.”
– Andy Merritt, RBA
Prior to the official announcement from Washington, news of Army troop cuts was leaked by local and state officials throughout the country, including U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs. “Although no one wants any reductions at Fort Carson, just 365 cut out of 23,349 soldiers shows that we are viewed favorably by the DoD and the Army,” Lamborn said.
“Fort Carson is still one of the most funded, most staffed and most active installations in the entire Army, operating on the very cutting edge of the future of warfare. The influx of money, missions and soldiers to the Mountain Post over the last few years has had a significant impact and has reinforced the uniqueness of the training settings that we can provide.”
Lamborn, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and other state and local officials have staunchly supported Fort Carson and its presence in Colorado Springs since the Army last year announced plans for downsizing.
“It is clear the Pentagon recognizes the strategic importance of Fort Carson and its missions, the critical role troops stationed there serve in protecting our national security, and all that Colorado offers our service members and their families,” Bennet said in a statement after the news broke July 9.
The public comment phase for potential cuts at Fort Carson closed in January and was followed by a “listening session” held by Pentagon officials at Centennial Hall on Feb. 3.
During that meeting, dozens of city and state officials, as well as concerned business owners and citizens, voiced their appreciation and support for the post. “Keep Carson Strong” was their motto.