Ongoing, looming Army cuts likely means more chores for soldiers

January 27, 2011

The Army’s maintenance budget remains tight and could get tighter, a Pentagon official said Thursday in Colorado Springs, meaning Fort Carson GIs won’t get out of lawn-mowing duty any time soon.

Having soldiers rather than civilian contractors cut the grass was one of several budget-cutting measures post commanders put in place last year.

On Thursday, Assistant Army Secretary Katherine Hammack said slimmer budgets likely are here to stay.

“We need to work harder with the amount of resources that are available,” Hammack said after touring Fort Carson.

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined plans to shave $78 billion from Pentagon spending over five years. Those plans include cutting some Army construction projects and delaying others.

Fort Carson’s Brig. Gen. James Doty said construction work ongoing and planned in the near future, including work on medical facilities and buildings to house a brigade, will keep going.

Don’t expect another $2 billion construction boom like the post has seen over the past six years, though. That construction came as the Army moved forces here during a wartime buildup.

Now, with the war in Iraq winding down, the Army is looking to live more cheaply. So is the Air Force, with local bases looking at about a 10 percent hit to their maintenance budgets.

“When we see budgets leveled out and declining, we have to be smarter in how we use our resources,” said Hammack, who was appointed to her post last year.

One last building burst could be in the works at Fort Carson. In the next few months, Pentagon leaders will decide whether to house a helicopter brigade there, bringing more than 2,000 soldiers and an estimated $300 million in airfield projects.

Hammack said Fort Carson remains in the running for the aviation unit, but a decision has not been reached.

On future cuts, including a planned reduction of the Army’s troop strength, Hammack said it’s unclear how they will play out in Colorado Springs.

“No decisions have been made,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hammack said, Fort Carson can teach the rest of the Army some lessons about the environmentally-friendly future of the force.

She praised the post’s solar plant and its partnership with Colorado Springs Utilities that’s aimed at making the Army greener.

“It really is a model for the rest of the installations to follow,” Hammack said.

Call the writer: 636-0240

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