While other military posts around the world will see losses of thousands of soldiers as the Army moves to a smaller fighting force, the Mountain Post now is scheduled to grow by 1,800 during the next six years.
“Including other restructuring changes, the Army anticipates Fort Carson will actually increase in size by 1,800 active-duty Army personnel,” U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn said in a statement. “Fort Carson is the finest Army post in the country and has access to unique mountain training ranges that enable our soldiers to be fully prepared to fight at altitude. Downsizing at Fort Carson simply does not make sense.”
Catherine Mortensen, spokeswoman for Lamborn, said the added troops include soldiers from the new combat aviation brigade who have yet to arrive at Fort Carson, and “other restructuring” around the DoD.
“We are getting our numbers from the Army,” Mortensen said. “I know other people are using other ways to analyze the numbers.”
According to information released this week by the Department of the Army, Fort Carson is one of only two Army installations that will realize a net increase by 2019.
The Army says that Fort Carson will see a net gain of 1,800 soldiers due to reorganization of the brigade combat teams, conversion of the teams to include field artillery and engineering components, and modifications to other units.
The Army’s official figures show that Fort Carson had two brigade combat teams in 2001 and a total of 13,800 soldiers. In 2013, it has four BCTs and 22,700 soldiers. In 2019, the Army projects Fort Carson will have three BCTs and 24,500 soldiers.
The only other post projected to grow in the next six years is Fort Benning in Georgia, which is expected to grow by 0.6 percent, from 13,000 soldiers today to 13,100 soldiers by 2019.
But the Mountain Post did take a hit from the Army’s restructuring plan. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division will be deactivated sometime before 2017, and that means about 3,000 soldiers from the brigade will move to other BCTs at Fort Carson. Only about 750 will lose their jobs. The 4th Infantry Division eventually will have two brigade combat teams, an artillery brigade, an aviation brigade and a light infantry combat team.
“It’s not catastrophic,” said Andy Merritt, chief defense industry officer at the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, “and it certainly could have been worse.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno says he hopes to achieve the reduction in force through people leaving the military voluntarily, but he hasn’t ruled out other actions.
Fort Carson remains essential to the Army’s overall mission, Lamborn said.
“The good news is that Fort Carson has other missions that the Army continues to grow such as aviation and special forces,” he said. “Next week the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade will officially be activated. The 4th CAB will bring dozens of helicopters and thousands of soldiers to Fort Carson and this year alone is injecting over $260 million in construction into our local economy.”
And the Army seems to agree.
“Fort Carson remains an essential power projection platform and home to multiple operational units and force generating capabilities,” the Army said in information released this week.
Among the assets keeping Fort Carson vital: the combat aviation brigade and the special forces units stationed there.
Merritt says the Mountain Post is set to grow from 3.98 percent of the overall Army force in 2012 to 5 percent by 2017.
The Army plans to cut troops by 80,000 soldiers in the next four years. It is reducing the overall Army strength from last year’s 562,000 to 490,000.
Basically, every Army post with two or more brigade combat teams will lose one. That means losses at Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Stewart, Ga., Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Knox, Ky.; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash.
The cuts include two brigades in Germany. But as with Fort Carson, many of those soldiers will be put into other units. At Fort Stewart, for instance, a brigade is being deactivated, but total losses will equal 1,300 troops.
The Army originally wanted to cut eight brigade combat teams, but the reality of recent budget cuts raised the number to 12 being eliminated, including two brigades in Germany.
Military installations have known the cuts were coming for about a year, as the Army moved to return to the levels of military strength before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But the move to cut troops is coupled with efforts to maintain readiness by standing up an additional battalion — between 600 and 800 soldiers — at each remaining brigade combat team, which typically has around 4,000 soldiers, according to official military reports.
That’s why the 3,000 soldiers at Fort Carson will move from 3rd BCT to other units.
Local officials still are sorting through the news. Sequestration could lead to further cuts in Army personnel. And no one is certain about the timing of deactivating the 3rd Combat Brigade Team.
The good news at Fort Carson, officials say, could be offset by further cuts due to sequestration, whose effects are still being determined.
Without further congressional action, the Pentagon must cut billions from its budget during the next decade in order to meet requirements in the federal Budget Control Act.
More uncertainty stems from timing of the brigade’s deactivation.
The 3rd Combat Brigade Team has the longest history at Fort Carson. It was activated at the Mountain Post in 1970, fought in Vietnam and recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. How the Army plans to end the brigade’s long military history is unclear, Merritt said.
“They have until 2017 to work out the details,” Merritt said. “That’s just one of the things we don’t know.”
At least for now, Colorado Springs can breathe a sigh of relief. This news keeps the city’s economy on even footing.
“It’s good news,” Merritt said. “The cut we’re going to see from this action is much smaller than it could have been. And we’re going to gain over the next few years.”