The unexpected and destructive terrorist attacks in Paris a week ago served to punctuate the message of U.S. military leaders and experts, who met last week in Colorado Springs to discuss the future of the military in these uncertain times.
If the world wasn’t listening then, it’s listening now.
“Sequestration was done four years ago,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson, who moderated a panel discussion during the event. “At that time, the assumptions were: that we could assume risk in Europe; that the primary threat out there was al-Qaida and that they were taken care of; and that things were going to be great in Iraq and Afghanistan and we’re pulling forces out.”
New threats have risen since then — the self-proclaimed Islamic State has taken over cities in Iraq and Syria, Russia has assumed control over parts of the Ukraine and the Chinese loom over it all. Panelists at the forum, sponsored by the Association of Defense Communities (an organization that represents 200 military communities throughout the U.S.), discussed how budget cuts are changing the military, the challenging world political environment and how the two combine to affect the overall mission of the U.S. military.
The two most critical issues — as identified by panelists and keynote speakers throughout the engagement — were federal budget sequestration and the potential for future rounds of BRAC (base realignment and closure). More than 350 installations worldwide have been closed as a result of BRAC rounds in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005.
“It’s important to remember that throughout the past decade and a half, the population on the ground at Fort Carson has remained fluid as units were deployed, restationed and redeployed,” said Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, adjutant general for Colorado, who delivered Thursday’s keynote speech. “While we tend to think of these installations as static and unchanging, they are as susceptible to change as the rest of our Department of Defense. So, I submit to you that we should embrace this change, for it will always be with us.”
The 2005 BRAC Commission recommended that Congress authorize another round in 2015, but the House Armed Services Committee rejected the idea. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 went further, specifically prohibiting the authorization of future BRAC rounds, although that could change in future cycles.
The DoD and Congress have been charged with finding ways to make the military more efficient with less funding and fewer resources, while still needing to meet certain standards. According to Edwards, this leaves Colorado — and other states with large military populations — wondering where they fit into the equation. He believes the state’s military assets are strong enough to meet fiscal challenges.
“Each of these installations really is so important to the defense of our nation,” he said. “We can leverage the technology and adaptability we so pride ourselves in, especially with our military background, to right-size our installations.”
Fort Carson and the surrounding communities, for example, recently used the installation’s High Altitude Mountain Environment Training program and accessibility to Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site near Trinidad as two of its strengths when facing potential cuts of up to 16,000 personnel. Instead, the Mountain Post lost only 365 active duty positions.
“I think the seven major military installations we have today in Colorado are absolutely critical to homeland defense,” he said. “Colorado’s installations are resources that the DoD uses day in and day out … they have key strategic value to our nation.”
Mayor John Suthers said that in these uncertain times it is absolutely vital for the country, as well as the region, to support the Pentagon in its missions.
“Given these assets, I don’t think there is any other city in the country more concerned than we are with maintaining positive working relationships with our military and to support the needs of their ongoing missions,” he said. “Colorado Springs and the defense community clearly have a symbiotic relationship. Colorado Springs is and will continue to be a resilient defense community.”
As the event continued, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn delivered a keynote speech Friday morning and addressed his strong disapproval of any further cuts in future defense budgets.
“The unfortunate thing about the BRAC process is that once an asset is lost, it might be impossible to regain or prohibitively expensive to replace,” Lamborn said. “Given the security challenges around the world, I think it reckless to divest assets that we might need in the future. … In such a volatile world, we need to be wary of giving up military capacity.”
During another panel Friday morning that was moderated by Colorado Springs Chief of Staff Jeff Greene, another group of local public servants — Colorado Springs City Councilor Don Knight, El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton and Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart — discussed how the local community continues to support the military.
Littleton discussed improved infrastructure and how the local military installations have benefited from those improvements. Knight discussed political moves made on behalf of accommodating the military, with specific regard to recreational marijuana legalization — during which he called Manitou Springs’ policy a weakness. Hart, meanwhile, discussed partnering with the military to support Fort Carson from the south, as well as to destroy weapons at the Pueblo Chemical Depot to prepare for its closure.
All of it equals the symbiotic relationship between the military and the Colorado Springs region.
“We’re a very patriotic region,” Hart said. “We’re very proud of our military.”