Fitch compares running Fort Carson to being CEO

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The U.S. Army relies on its officers to act as managers.

“As garrison commander, there are a number of challenges you face every day,” said Col. Ronald Fitch Jr. “A lot of them are no different than what a CEO or business owner would encounter, like issues with resources, money and prioritizing things you need to do.”

The Pennsylvania native will relinquish control of Fort Carson’s day-to-day operations in July.

“I’ve actually decided to retire and stay here in Colorado Springs,” Fitch said. “I am working through a couple of different opportunities, and it’s a good time to be here in Colorado Springs. I look forward to finding something here in the local community.”

After graduating from Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in January 1995, Fitch was commissioned into the Army as an engineer officer.

“Having opportunities to go overseas to Korea and Panama were a unique way to start off a career — and awesome,” he said.

Fitch also has three master’s degrees from different colleges in engineering management, international relations and strategic studies.

He is Special Forces qualified and has been deployed overseas numerous times.

The 23-year service member’s awards include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and Defense Meritorious Service Medal.

Fitch recently spoke with the Business Journal about being a leader in the Army and his time as garrison commander.

Why did you join the military?

It was before 9/11. I had joined as a reservist originally to get money for college in 1989. … When I got to Penn State, I had talked to a couple of kids who had been in ROTC at basic training, and they were big on that. I joined the program and ended up getting a scholarship and then went into the Army after that to pay back my college scholarship, essentially. I don’t know where the last 23 years have gone, but I’ve really loved it.

When did you decide to make the military your career?

I guess it was almost immediately. … I got to spend a lot of time in the field and a lot of time traveling to different countries and had just great experiences. As I compared what my friends were doing at the time, they were trying to get a job or slugging away in some company while I was traveling the world and having a good time doing my job.

Talk about your family.

Part of the other draw to stay here too is my wife, who is a C-130 pilot by trade, serves in the Air Force Reserve and currently works at Peterson at NORTHCOM headquarters. We also have young kids — a 6-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter — so after 24 years, we are looking forward to some family stability to watch them grow and accomplish things in school and the community. We are very excited to stay here in this beautiful city.

How did you become Fort Carson’s garrison commander?

There is no real path, really. You compete for commands at different levels. … The colonel level is generally when you compete for a garrison. … I had it listed pretty high because it’s a pretty interesting job and the Army doesn’t exactly train you to do it. I was lucky to get my No. 1 choice, which was here at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.

Describe the garrison commander’s duties.

It’s something new every day. … It’s much like being the CEO of the company. You can look at it in the regards that I report to a board of directors, which would be the commanding general, his two deputy generals and the chief of staff. Then, within the garrison, we have a lot of things you would see in a small city or company. We have a director of human resources, department of public works; we run all the emergency services on post. We run all the training apparatus, training ranges and the airfield on post. We are responsible for the protection and security of the post and all of the public affairs for the installation as well as equal opportunity and safety. The Army doesn’t train you on how to do all of that stuff. It really relies on your ability to be an organizational learner and to come in and listen to the senior civilians you have working for you. You take their advice and then just use your basic leadership skills.

What are some the challenges you face?

The Army took budget cuts back in 2013 — the whole Department of Defense did. I think our No. 1 challenge is infrastructure. We have grown more infrastructure than any other base in the Army. We have expanded almost 12 million square feet of facility space alone and then we have a total of 685 square miles of land between Fort Carson and Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site down near Trinidad and Las Animas County. … We typically get — along with every other installation in the Army — about 65 percent of what you are required just to sustain the infrastructure that you have. That doesn’t account for major repair projects or more additional construction to meet additional missions on the installation. So it’s very difficult to make hard choices on what you can fix and what you are not going to. … The Army centrally manages what it calls the restoration and modernization money to do repairs on post. … We needed a significant amount of money, like $9 million, in order to upgrade our wastewater treatment plant to be in line with environmental regulations put in place by the state of Colorado. We were able to compete well and get that money because we were going to be violating a law. Another example would be our education center. It’s very old, doesn’t have IT infrastructure, the heating and air conditioning doesn’t work, and it just doesn’t have the ability to support education any more. … That project did not compete well at the Army level. … We had to get creative and look at ways to use the money the Army gave us for sustainment to do that project.

Any update on the brigade that might be leaving?

No. The timeline was always going to be the environmental and public comment period during the month of April, which is complete. We really saw the communities and entities across the entire state rally around the installation in order to keep that brigade here. It is a large economic impact for the city and the county and really the entire state. Between the soldiers and their families, it would be about 10,000 people and the associated equipment. If the brigade were to leave, it’s probably about a $400 million economic impact loss to the city and county. Talking to a lot of our political staffers, it’s really the first time in almost 23 years that people can remember that we saw the complete Colorado delegation sign letters of support for Fort Carson. … In Trinidad, that is an important thing not to be lost, because of some of the history that revolves around Piñon Canyon. The city manager from Trinidad went to D.C. to engage on behalf of Fort Carson. That’s pretty powerful when you think about where that community was with the Army just 12 years ago. That’s a complete turnaround, and we are grateful for all the support we have gotten from southern Colorado. But it was always going to be the end of June when we expected an answer on if the brigade is leaving.

What are some of your accomplishments as garrison commander?

I think we have partnered well with the local community. One of the first decisions I was faced with was how to compensate for an almost 30 percent reduction in our Morale, Welfare and Recreation budget, which facilitates all of our soldier and family programs. Having the community partnerships that we have here in Colorado Springs was key to that. … Managing our infrastructure and being able to continue to get things built and continuing the build-out of our airfield has been significant. … It’s a very busy place here at Fort Carson. We got here in 2016 and half the base was deployed, then last year we supported a deployment to Europe with one brigade while the rest of the folks were back here training up to deploy this year. Being able to support all of those moving pieces and all of their training requirements and obligations has been a pretty good accomplishment as well. Then working on behalf of our soldiers and families and our partnered school district in Fountain to ensure our kids are developed and taken care of. Plus, making sure our families are taken care of while their loved ones are deployed. I again would articulate that the local community is always asking what more can it do to support the family members of our deployed soldiers, and that’s one of the best things about living here in Colorado Springs.

What advice would you give young military leaders?

They need to use their initiative. Always listen to your subordinates and then make informed decisions. Let the folks below you do what needs to be done by empowering them. I think that’s what really creates a positive environment and giving good guidance. You really can’t be empowered unless you truly understand what the vision and mission are.