Communities rally to keep combat team at Carson

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As the Pentagon weighs whether the newly converted 16th Armored Brigade Combat Team will stay at Fort Carson, Colorado Springs is counting the potential cost — in community and in dollars — of possibly losing 10,000 soldiers and family members for good.

It’s been a week since the Army released a Programmatic Environmental Assessment regarding the planned conversion of the existing 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson to the new 16th Armored Brigade Combat Team, and already community, city and state leaders are rallying to urge the Secretary of the Army to keep the new ABCT at the Mountain Post.

The conversion is needed to increase the Active Army’s ABCT capacity by one brigade, from 10 to 11, in order to reduce the shortfall in Total Army ABCT capacity to meet contingency operational demands, according to the PEA. The conversion would take place in FY 2019.

Brandy Gill, chief of media relations at Fort Carson’s Garrison Public Affairs, said Fort Carson is one of five locations being considered to station the new ABCT. The others are Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Riley, Kan.; and Fort Stewart, Ga.

“If the ABCT is stationed at another Army installation, Fort Carson would lose approximately 4,000 soldiers and 6,000 family members from the Front Range Community,” Gill said in an email to the Business Journal. “That would be a loss of 16 percent of the current Fort Carson population and would result in an annual economic loss of approximately $336 million to the local and state economies.”

She said soldiers and their families live, work and play in the local communities around Fort Carson, and their presence boosts housing and business growth in the area.

“This brigade conversion is critical to the overall success of the Army mission. The Army Environmental Command has stated that keeping the brigade at Fort Carson after its conversion would be the best, most cost-effective solution,” she added. “It is also the best option for Fort Carson and our neighboring communities.”

Gill said Fort Carson has had two ABCTs stationed here as recently as 2014 and “already has the infrastructure to support [the new ABCT] with state-of-the-art facilities and ample training range areas.”

Fort Carson has adequate family housing and barracks inventories to support the conversion, she said.

Rich Burchfield, chief defense development officer with the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, said the chamber is encouraging area business leaders and community members to express their support for stationing the ABCT at Fort Carson via public comment to the Army, open until April 29.

Burchfield described the estimated $336 million in economic impact as “significant” — and said the loss of 4,000 soldiers and 6,000 family members from the community would be even more striking.

“If we lose this opportunity — meaning we don’t get the conversion — the infantry brigade is going to go away,” he said. “And I think that’s something we want our local community to understand, because now you really look at that dollar figure and, more importantly, the soldiers and their families. That’s over 10,000 people who in a short period of time will be pulled out of our community. This is not one of those things that will be a slow, phased out rotation. This will happen pretty quick and we would, as a community, feel that.”

Burchfield said the entire Colorado delegation had sent a letter to Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, urging him to stand up the ABCT at Fort Carson.

“Converting the existing unit at Fort Carson is the most cost-effective way to stand up the new unit,” the letter (see full text below) says in part. “This course is the only alternative that does not require either new construction or significant renovation and relocation.”

The letter is signed by Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. Cory Gardner, Rep. Scott Tipton, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Rep. Doug Lamborn, Rep. Jared Polis, Rep. Diana DeGette, Rep. Mike Coffman, Rep. Ken Buck and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Burchfield said Gardner, Bennet and Lamborn had confirmed they are setting up one-on-one meetings with the secretary to discuss the importance of stationing the ABCT at Fort Carson. Through its Military Affairs Council, the chamber is also working with key agencies around the state and the mayors of Colorado Springs, Fountain, Pueblo, Trinidad, Manitou Springs, Aurora and Monument to show support at the senior level, he said.

The impact of the Army’s decision will extend well beyond Fountain and Colorado Springs, Burchfield said, and the effort to keep the ABCT at Fort Carson is seeing “incredible support” from leaders from around the state.

“It’s indicative of what’s going on in Colorado: Folks are just really rallying for important elements of our communities that make this state stronger,” he said. “Keep in mind Fort Carson has a $2.2 billion economic impact, as an installation, to our local community — and, you could say, to the state of Colorado. … Collectively when you look at our military installations here in town… there’s $7 billion in economic impact, so that $2.2 billion is a big piece. They have the lion’s share.”

Burchfield emphasized the role of Fort Carson’s soldiers and military families in southern Colorado communities.

“When you peel it back, it is the families who live here in town; it’s the spouses who work in town; it’s the fact their kids play side by side in the local soccer programs that my kids play in,” he said. “When people realize it’s not just the guys in green who are keeping the bad guys far away from our borders who work out of Fort Carson, it truly is their families who are woven into our community.”

Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center COO Bob McLaughlin spent three of his years at Fort Carson serving as garrison commander and, after retiring, stayed in Colorado Springs to work with veterans.

“I’ve always believed, whether on active duty or as a community member, that this community with Fort Carson and its training areas is uniquely positioned to have great partnerships with the military installation,” he said. “If I were to vote, this is an ideal place to make sure that we’re able to continue the brigade transformation right here at Fort Carson. It would remain a positive part of the community, a great part of an installation that’s already expanded to a capacity where they can facilitate this organization.

“This clearly has proven over the years to be a very military-friendly city that has the right programs to support military families,” he added. “It would clearly show that we are positioned to keep them here.”

With great training facilities at altitude and a highly supportive, flexible community, Fort Carson is postured to continue training the new brigade, McLaughlin said.

“In a perfect world, Fort Carson would get to keep [this] brigade and gain another support brigade, which would be awesome,” he said.

Mt. Carmel Director of Partner Development Nick Palarino said the possible loss of 10,000 soldiers and family members would have an impact on retail, jobs that military spouses fill on and off post, enrollments at Pikes Peak Community College, UCCS and Regis, and demand for housing.

Michelle Garrigan, who moved to Colorado Springs five years ago when her husband was stationed at Fort Carson, has been a Realtor specializing in Fountain and Widefield properties for the past four years.

For rental properties and home sales, soldiers and military families represent at least 95 percent of her business.

“Maybe only two or three of my clients are not military,” she said. “Losing 10,000 people I think would have a pretty significant impact in the community in general, not just on the real estate industry. Especially the Fountain and Widefield area, I feel like they’d be hit pretty hard if 10,000 [from] Fort Carson do leave.”

Garrigan said Fountain and Widefield are popular with military families, especially as more choose to live off the installation.

“In general the average person I work with would probably spend around $1,500 a month in rent, and to purchase they’re looking anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 depending on their rank,” she said. “That’s a pretty average ballpark.”

As for how long it would take to come back from the loss of 16 percent of the current Fort Carson population, “that’s a hard question,” she said. “Since my business is pretty much military, it would be a matter of whether they bring in another large group at some point, or whether they just don’t replace them with anyone. Then I don’t know that it could be replaced.”

Construction could also feel the pinch, Garrigan said.

“I feel like there’s tons of new construction that’s being developed based on the people that are currently here — in the Widefield and Fountain areas specifically, there are a lot of builders that are building because of the housing needs…,” she said. “And if they leave I feel like that’s going to have a big impact on the new-construction world as well.”

While Garrigan said losing the ABCT would have a long-term impact on her business, she was philosophical.

“Obviously I hope they keep them here,” she said. “Obviously they need to do what’s best for the mission … do what’s right for the Army and the needs of the Army.”

Janis Zarter, who owns Black Bear Coffee & Tea Lodge just off Fort Carson, has a similar take.

“Most of our clientele is military of some sort, whether it’s contractors, retirees, civilians, active duty, spouses — we are a stone’s throw away so that’s our clientele,” she said. “My employees are military wives, I’m a prior military wife, this is a military store, so it’s in our blood.”

Whatever the new location for the ABCT, Zarter said she would “support it 110 percent” because of her experience as a military wife.

“I understand that it may affect my business but it’s so much more than my business,” she said. “It’s about the soldiers. Whatever they need to do, I support it. … Would I prefer them to be there? Absolutely, because they’re my heartbeat. But if they’ve got to go, they’ve got to go.”

Pikes Peak Community College Director of Military and Veterans Programs Paul DeCecco, who served 29 years in the Army, said his department serves about 1,000 active duty military and 3,000 military family members each year, along with about 3,000 veterans. Of PPCC’s students, about 26 percent are connected to the military — active duty, veterans or dependents.

The economic impact of losing a brigade of this size would be significant, DeCecco said, but he is just as concerned about the impact on military members themselves. “[The Department of Defense] provides, to those 1,000 active duty members, a little over $1.25 million in tuition assistance that enables them to be able to go to college — and that of course is a positive economic impact on the local community,” he said. “But I think more than anything — and I say this as a belief and as a retired military person myself — what the community college offers to the service member and the veteran is that ability to transition, and make a transition a little bit easier.

“If those folks [leave] they are potentially going to lose that possibility of having a community college right outside the gates where they work — and we do classes right on post as well — to get them mentally and physically ready to move on from the service, so there’s that impact as well.”

A reduction in enrollments at the community college level potentially has a run-on effect of reduced numbers moving on to four-year colleges, completing certificates, and moving into the workforce in the Pikes Peak region, DeCecco said.

“Many of our veterans and students leave Pikes Peak and then go on to UCCS as well,” he said. “It will have a double impact, in that sense, for our community.”

Cathy Kropp, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Army Environmental Command, said the date for a decision will be determined after all public comments are reviewed and an environmental assessment is completed.

Public comments will be accepted until April 29. Email usarmy.jbsa.aec.nepa@mail.mil or write to U.S. Army Environmental Command, ATTN: Public Comments, 2450 Connell Road (Building 2264), Joint Base San Antonio – Fort Sam Houston, TX 78234-7664. 


April 4, 2018

The Honorable Dr. Mark T. Esper
Secretary of the Army
101 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0101

Dear Secretary Esper:

We strongly urge you to stand up the Army’s 16th Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as concluded in the draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the conversion of an Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) to an ABCT at Fort Carson. In accordance with operational need, we understand the Army seeks to increase the number of ABCT units. As bipartisan members of the Colorado delegation, we stand fully behind the recommendation to grow armored brigades at Fort Carson.

Despite recent budget increases, the Army must spend resources wisely to ensure we are fully prepared to meet the challenges of the current and future security environment. Converting the existing unit at Fort Carson is the most cost-effective way to stand up the new unit. This course is the only alternative that does not require either new construction or significant renovation and relocation. The base has proven capabilities to support an ABCT, including the infrastructure required for sustainment, as well as training sites second to none. Additionally, because the Army conducted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2015, it would not be necessary to conduct another. Indeed, Fort Carson is an excellent environmental steward, and has created successful and innovative programs to protect cultural and environmental resources.

Finally, community support in our state for Fort Carson missions, personnel, and families is unmatched. Fort Carson is consistently in the top requested posts for Army families and personnel in the United States, and continues to draw some of the nation’s best soldiers. Colorado remains one of the most desirable places to train, work, live, and retire in the country.

The Army must be ready to respond to near-peer competitors such as Russia, as well as rogue regimes such as the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. We are confident that Fort Carson’s infrastructure, manpower, and capabilities will deliver a strong, capable, and ready armored brigade in support of our military readiness and our national security.

We stand ready to support the 16th ABCT at Fort Carson in any way we can. Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Cory Gardner, United States Senator
Michael F. Bennet, United States Senator
Scott R. Tipton, United States Representative
Ed Perlmutter, United States Representative
Doug Lamborn, United States Representative
Jared Polis, United States Representative
Mike Coffman, United States Representative
Diana DeGette, United States Representative
Ken Buck, United States Representative
John W. Hickenlooper, Governor