Fort Carson among finalists for new helicopter brigade

September 10, 2010

The Army has told Colorado congressional offices that Fort Carson is one of two finalists to house a 2,700-soldier aviation brigade.

The Army will make its final decision on where the unit will go as soon as next year after environmental assessments at the bases, said staffers for Colorado’s Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn.

Fort Carson is competing with Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash.

While Fort Carson’s chance to get the brigade has been rumored for months, the latest step includes one key finding — that the post doesn’t need to add land to its Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site near Trinidad to train the helicopter crews.

“The Army has expressly said that the current acreage will work,” Lamborn said in a phone interview Friday.

The Army sparked a firestorm of opposition with its proposal to add 100,000 acres to the 235,000-acre Piñon Canyon site, and a demand for more land as part of the aviation brigade discussions would likely scuttle any deal.

The Army wants to add the additional helicopter brigade to its ranks by 2013 and a final decision on where it will be based will likely come in 2011 after a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is completed.

That process includes a lengthy public comment period and will review how adding the extra soldiers and aircraft will impact the environment.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord will be a formidable opponent for Fort Carson in the helicopter quest. The Washington base offers similar opportunities for mountain training and possesses the 327,000-acre Yakima Training Center range 150 miles east of the post.

Washington also has one of the nation’s most powerful congressional delegations, including Tacoma’s Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks, who as chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee holds great sway over Army spending.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Fort Carson are the only Army posts with combat divisions that lack major aviation units.

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