Building boom expected at Carson to house helicopter unit

March 30, 2011
photo - Garrison commander Col. Robert F. McLaughlin fields questions Wednesday in front of a helicopter static display about the establishment of a combat aviation brigade at Fort Carson.  Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE
Garrison commander Col. Robert F. McLaughlin fields questions Wednesday in front of a helicopter static display about the establishment of a combat aviation brigade at Fort Carson. Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE 

The Army will spend $750 million to house a new helicopter brigade at Fort Carson, with the construction cash starting to flow as soon as this fall, post officials said Wednesday.

The spending, $500 million more than an estimate released earlier by Congress, will go into a three-year program to renovate the post’s Butts Army Airfield, build headquarters facilities, hangars and barracks, said Col. Robert McLaughlin, Fort Carson’s garrison commander.

It will increase the amount the Army has spent on new facilities at Fort Carson to nearly $3 billion over 10 years. The buildings have gone up as the number of soldiers on post increased from 13,500 in 2003 to nearly 30,000 planned for 2013.

Business leaders say the Army’s construction boom has helped the industry that’s arguably been hardest hit by the ongoing recession.

“That’s important, obviously for the construction industry as a whole and hopefully for our local construction businesses,” said Brian Binn, president of military affairs for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

The construction announcement came as the Army formalized its decision, first made public Monday, to house a 2,700-soldier aviation brigade at the post that will bring as many as 120 helicopters.

The new unit, the Army’s 13th aviation brigade, will be established at the post in 2013 and ready for combat by 2014.

McLaughlin said leaders at the post are already thinking of the noise complaints that will come when the brigade begins a regimen of 3,000 annual training flights.

A key to controlling noise will be flying over mostly uninhabited areas, he said.

“We always take into consideration their flight routes on and off the base,” McLaughlin said.

The post is working with local authorities and school officials to plan for the estimated 4,000 spouses and children that will move to the area with the brigade’s soldiers.

Fort Carson houses about a quarter of its soldiers on post, so most of the new troops will commute to work.

That has McLaughlin and others talking about opening a new gate on the post’s south side that would allow drivers to head for the airfield from Interstate 25 exits near downtown Fountain.

Another gate that could open would be off Colorado Highway 115 to connect into Wilderness Road, which bisects the post.

The biggest piece of roadwork, though, will be for aircraft rather than cars.
Commanders say they’ll add nearly a half-mile of runway at the airfield, along with apron space for loading cargo and refueling.

The area will get a preview of life with a helicopter brigade in Colorado Springs next month when a brigade of helicopters from the 82nd Airborne Division comes to Fort Carson for training.

The post frequently hosts Army helicopter units that train in Colorado’s mountains to prepare for combat in Afghanistan.



The people

The aviation brigade will have 2,700 soldiers, with more than 10 percent officers.

The unit will employ scores of civilian workers to run flight simulators, maintain aircraft and repair weapons.

The aircraft

The Fort Carson unit is classified as a medium combat aviation brigade. Here’s a rundown on what that means:

• 24 AH-64 Apache helicopters
These are the world’s premiere tank killers, Driven by a four-bladed rotor gathering horsepower from twin turbine engines, the Apache can carry as many as 16 anti-tank missiles.

• 30 OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters
Known for the ball-shaped camera pod atop its rotor, the Kiowa is designed to spy on enemies but also packs a punch. It can carry a mix of rockets, missiles and machine guns.

• 38 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters
These are troop carriers that can haul a squad of soldiers or reposition a 105 mm howitzer. It has been heavily used in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning the nickname “The Baghdad Taxi Service” from some GIs.

• 12 CH-47 Chinook helicopters
These massive choppers are the 18-wheelers of the sky. It can fly at 175 mph with a 10-ton load. With its impressive payload, the Chinook can carry a 155 mm howitzer, its 11-man crew and 30 rounds of ammunition.

• 15 HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters
This variant of the UH-60 is used for medical evacuation from the battlefield. Called “Dustoff” aircraft, they’ve been used to take wounded troops from firefights to hospitals in a matter of minutes.

The wheels

The brigade will have more than 600 vehicles. The most common rig is the Humvee. It also will have cargo trucks, fuel trucks and specialized maintenance trucks.


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