Military presence strong; future unclear

The numbers of troops stationed at local military installations have remained fairly constant, but budget cuts are beginning to have a noticeable impact. However, construction projects totaling more than $240 million, including at Fort Carson’s airfield, have continued.

The numbers of troops stationed at local military installations have remained fairly constant, but budget cuts are beginning to have a noticeable impact. However, construction projects totaling more than $240 million, including at Fort Carson’s airfield, have continued.

As part of last year’s Budget Control Act, Congress mandated $1.2 trillion in cuts across federal agencies, including $50 billion in Pentagon cuts over the next decade.

Despite recent congressional austerity measures and the looming threat and uncertainty surrounding base realignments and closures, or BRAC, the Pikes Peak region’s military sector remains strong, according to Andy Merritt, chief defense industry officer with the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

“We’re very healthy right now,” Merritt said. “We’ve seen some smaller cuts, but nothing dramatic. The concern is the long-term because of [the country’s] budget situation. As a community, we need to keep rallying to protect the military here.”

Fort Carson

The Army will experience the most fluctuations at both a local and national level in the months and years ahead, according to Merritt. He added, due to its size, Fort Carson also has the greatest impact on the local economy. 

“Of all the services, the Army is facing the most dramatic personnel costs,” Merritt said. “They [increased personnel] the most because of the wars and now they are cutting the most. That’s normal.”

The Mountain Post is losing the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division — which means approximately 3,800 soldiers — in 2015, as part of the Army’s goal to trim 38,000 soldiers from its active duty force. That’s a piece of an overall drawdown of 80,000 soldiers over the next two years, according to an Army Times article published in January. That story added that about 3,000 of those troops will be absorbed by three remaining brigades at the post, meaning a net loss of fewer than 1,000. 

Fort Carson had 22,667 active duty personnel in 2012 and, despite cuts, has a projected growth to a total of 24,484 troops in 2019. That increase, which Merritt called a “best-case scenario,” is attributed to the activation of the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Carson last summer.

“Facilities may lose personnel at one pay rate but gain personnel making more in different positions.” 

– Andy Merritt
Regional Business Alliance

Merritt said, however, the community needs to be vigilant of the worst-case scenario — a potential 16,000-troop drawdown at Fort Carson alone. 

“We as a community need to remind Army leadership and Pentagon leadership of the assets here so they fully understand and appreciate what Fort Carson offers,” Merritt said. “[Congress] will be cutting large numbers of troops from some bases and there’s no way to know for sure where. Every Army community and state will be making their best case [to avoid reallocations and closures] over the next few years as the Army goes through this process.”

Merritt said the Mountain Post has strengths not found elsewhere, which could help its case. Those include the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site and the ability to conduct mountain and high-altitude training. 

“Putting all the controversy surrounding Piñon Canyon behind us was huge for the Army,” Merritt said regarding settled legal battles between the post and Piñon Canyon neighbors who objected to the training site. “We had Army officials tell us that if soldiers can’t train at [Piñon Canyon,] the value of Fort Carson drops dramatically.”

Merritt said he will be in Washington, D.C., in December to sell the strengths of Fort Carson and address possible concerns, which could include relatively small issues like improving access at Gate 19 and paving its entrance, to significant concerns including the post’s and the community’s ability to address soldiers’ mental-health needs.

“The Peak Military Care Network is critical for that,” Merritt said.

A statement provided by Fort Carson’s public affairs’ office reads:  “[The] 4th Infantry Division-Fort Carson has more than 26,000 active duty military, 42,000 family members and 6,300 Army civilians. The 4th Combat Aviation Brigade has activated all of its battalions and has a majority of its personnel assigned, they are still waiting to receive some of the aircraft to complete their operational capability. As identified by the Army in 2013, the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team will inactivate in January 2015. Any other force structure changes at Fort Carson have not been announced by the Department of the Army at this time.”  

U.S. Air Force Academy

The Air Force Academy has not been immune to sequestration. USAFA will be forced to eliminate 10 academic majors and 99 military and civilian staff positions under the fiscal 2015 budget, according to Air Force Academy Public Affairs Officer John Van Winkle.

It was announced in March that the academy plans to cut basic sciences, biochemistry, materials chemistry, meteorology, general engineering, environmental engineering, humanities, philosophy, social science and systems engineering management from its available majors.

Cadets who have declared one of the majors slated for the chopping block will not have to change their major, Van Winkle added.

“It’s part of the bigger picture of declining budgets,” he said. “Bases have been told to operate more efficiently. This is a normal process now to do more with less.”

The 99 positions will be eliminated by September of this year, Van Winkle said, including 30 athletic staff positions and 29 positions from the Dean of Faculty office. The academy is also planning to cut 40 enlisted academy military trainers. The academy now has two trainers assigned to each of its 40 squadrons, but under the budget cuts, each squadron will have one trainer, he said. Those active-duty positions will be relocated. 

Van Winkle said the cuts are significant, but not crippling.

“You won’t see lights go out and tumbleweeds blowing across the flight line,” he said. “The civilian world assesses its situation and its needs and adapts. The academy does the same thing.”

Peterson Air Force Base/
Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station

Merritt said Peterson Air Force Base has “certainly seen reductions” and threats of reductions to its budget and personnel over the past year. 

One example unfolded this week as the Air Force announced 275 military and civilian positions would be cut from Air Force Space Command at Peterson.

“The changes are a result of a comprehensive effort to reduce overhead costs, increase efficiencies, eliminate redundant activities and improve effectiveness and business processes (also known as Air Force Management Headquarters Review),” read a news release issued by the Air Force. “The efficiencies created through the reorganization will also help meet the Department of Defense’s directive to reduce costs and staff levels by at least 20 percent, eliminating 3,459 positions at headquarters across the Air Force, both in country and at overseas locations. As part of ongoing cost savings initiatives, the Air Force will also continue to reduce contract spending, operating budgets and travel expenditures.”  

Posing an additional threat, Merritt said, would be the possible elimination of 200 active-duty positions and four aircraft associated with the base’s 302nd Air Wing. Those personnel and equipment were utilized during the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires in 2012 and 2013. 

According to an economic impact analysis of operations at Peterson AFB and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station for fiscal year 2013, the total personnel of the two installations — including active duty, reserve and Canadian forces, military dependents, civilians and contractors — amounts to 17,037.

“Those personnel account for payroll expenditures of [nearly $600 million]. Construction, services and the procurement of materials, equipment and supplies was [$562 million] in 2013,” the report states.

The study estimated that 4,466 jobs were indirectly created in FY2013 with an average salary of $43,420. A combined annual payroll for both direct and indirect jobs was estimated at just over $1 billion.

The report went on to explain, “the total variance in economic impact between FY12 and FY13 amounted to a decrease of $83.5 million, or a 5.9 percent decline in total spending, as well as the decrease in employment.”

Merritt said, all things considered, “Peterson has survived pretty well so far.”

In addition, the base reported a decrease in personnel over the past two years but salaries at Peterson increased.

“That’s likely because of changing job requirements,” Merritt said. “Facilities may lose personnel at one pay rate but gain personnel making more in different positions.”

Merritt said a small boost to Peterson’s numbers will be due to the transfer of the 4th Space Control Squadron, a 92-person unit from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. That transfer began in January and should be completed by the end of the year. 

“Peterson has definitely lost some of its economic impact and some jobs, but there are some offsetting factors that have mitigated that impact,” he said.

Schriever Air Force Base

According to Merritt, Schriever Air Force Base is following a familiar formula: Reducing some personnel, but nothing “significant or dramatic.”

“The missile defense budget overall has done pretty well. Congress has kept that strong,” Merritt said of Schriever’s relative stability.

Going forward, Merritt said Schriever’s Joint National Integration Center Research and Development Contract — or JRDC — is coming up for renewal. The $2 billion contract is the largest single contract of all military installations in Colorado Springs, he said.

“A renewal of that could be huge for the city’s future,” he said. “We would definitely see the impacts.”

Vision toward 2020

While Colorado Springs has been shielded to date from major cuts and the economic repercussions, Colorado Springs still faces many uncertainties. 

With almost half of the city’s economy tied to military spending, any BRAC actions toward local installations could have an enormous ripple effect. Merritt said, however, he does not see the worst-case scenario as likely.

“If sequestration continues, the active duty presence in the city will probably be a little less in 2020,” Merritt said, adding the effects to the National Guard and Reserve Service will be less pronounced. 

“But there are opportunities for growth as well. As other facilities consolidate, there’s the potential they could be moved to Colorado Springs. There is the potential for growth through the sequestration process. But there is also the opportunity for significant reduction.”

Good news

The Military Construction Program, or MILCON, has slated for completion this fall hundreds of millions of dollars in projects at Fort Carson. Those include:

• a $66 million aircraft maintenance hangar for the assault battalion, which will accommodate 385 personnel, 30 helicopters and a maintenance company;

• a $73 million aircraft maintenance hangar for the general support aviation battalion, which will support 583 personnel and 35 helicopters;

• a $34 million central energy plant;

• a $12 million fire station, which was moved from the FY15 budget to a start of construction in FY14;

• a $33 million consolidated battalion headquarters building, which will house all five of the Combat Aviation Brigade’s battalions;

• a $12 million runway, one of a series of system-wide infrastructure projects that also includes utilities work and other transportation infrastructure; and

• a $12.2 million flight simulator facility that is required to support an addition of digital flight simulators.

The grounds of the Combat Aviation Brigade’s headquarters will include five hangars ($330 million), and infrastructure upgrades ($50 million), as well as a control tower and fire station when construction is completed.

New barracks valued at $113 million are scheduled for completion in spring 2015.