Anderson: straight talk, sad news

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For nearly an hour Tuesday night, Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson gave a roomful of local difference-makers a full and honest assessment of how he views the Army in general and Fort Carson in particular.

Speaking to the Winter Night Club at The Broadmoor, Gen. Anderson outlined how the Army is dealing with all the threats and uncertainties that surround America’s military. With the same mix of humor and bluntness that have made Fort Carson’s commanding general so deeply respected by area leaders, almost all of whom he has gotten to know personally since coming here in November 2011, Anderson talked about his concerns.

He admitted federal budget cuts might “spread the peanut butter too thin” as the Army deals with threats from cyber attacks and terrorism to global instability. He described the most likely local effects of sequestration as civilian jobs being lost, contractors being let go and the Army’s purchasing power being diminished. He addressed possible consequences of Colorado legalizing marijuana, saying he was “very worried … we have a high rate of drug use now, and it’ll get worse.” He also discussed how the “stress and strain of multiple deployments” have made the force’s wellness a priority.

On the bright side, Gen. Anderson raved about Colorado Springs, saying our city supports the military “better than anywhere” and calling himself an expert from having served at almost every large Army installation. He thanked the city for helping soldiers and their families, through education and human services beyond what the military provides.

But he also said that “people in Washington” had warned him this area wasn’t so friendly to the military, based largely on opposition to the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. Clearly, though, Gen. Anderson has learned differently, and that could be helpful down the line because he obviously has the kind of presence, credentials and forcefulness that could take him far in the Army’s highest echelon.

Unfortunately for us, that speech Tuesday will be one of Gen. Anderson’s final opportunities to speak publicly as Fort Carson’s commanding general. He gave no indication, but a fresh round of new general officer assignments is becoming known, and the word is that Anderson will leave next month, reportedly becoming a three-star in the process. His deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Darsie Rogers Jr., also will depart, relocating to Fort Bragg, N.C.

Regardless of who takes Anderson’s place in charge of Fort Carson and the 4th Infantry Division, his successor will have a tough act to follow. In balancing the immense duties of overseeing the large Army post and reaching out to community leaders, Gen. Anderson has stood out as one of the best commanders to be stationed here. Just as a quick example, after hearing of unrest in Pueblo over Fort Carson and city leaders there agreeing to have the Army place extra helicopters at Pueblo’s airport (and paying $300,000 a year to do so), Gen. Anderson altered his schedule to drive there Tuesday and meet with various people, simply to allay concerns.

That’s admirable leadership, and Colorado Springs should make sure Gen. Joe Anderson realizes what an impact he’s had here in a short but influential tenure. If there’s any way the city can honor him appropriately, we should.