Fort Carson estimated to lose about 1,500 troops under Army-wide cuts

June 25, 2013 Updated: June 25, 2013 at 8:25 pm
photo - Col. Randy George relinquished command of Fort Carson's 4th Brigade Combat Team to Col. James Mingus Friday, Aug. 13, 2010, in a ceremony Friday, Aug. 13, 2010, at Manhart Field on Fort Carson.     (Kevin Kreck, The Gazette)
Col. Randy George relinquished command of Fort Carson's 4th Brigade Combat Team to Col. James Mingus Friday, Aug. 13, 2010, in a ceremony Friday, Aug. 13, 2010, at Manhart Field on Fort Carson. (Kevin Kreck, The Gazette) 

Fort Carson would lose about 1,500 soldiers by 2017 under a reorganization that includes disbanding one of its four brigade combat teams and reassigning thousands of soldiers to new units.

The cuts take the post from a projected population of 26,000 to a projected 24,500 as the Army reduces its ranks by 80,000 soldiers under a cost cutting plan.

The cuts announced Tuesday at the Pentagon include eliminating 12 brigade combat teams across the Army, a move that would cut 17,000 soldiers. Plans to eliminate the other 63,000 soldiers, which include support troops and extra soldiers carried on the roster of a wartime Army, haven't been detailed.

"I think we came out as good as we could have," said Ed Anderson, a retired Army three-star general who heads the National Homeland Defense Foundation in Colorado Springs.

The changes come after a decade of wartime growth at Fort Carson that saw the population of soldiers assigned there nearly double amid a $2.5 billion construction boom.

Terrance McWilliams, a retired command sergeant major and former top enlisted soldier at Fort Carson said the light cuts mean the Army is sold on Colorado Springs.

"Fort Carson is still a viable installation to the Department of Defense and the Army," McWilliams said.

In the world of Army numbers, the change at Carson may be hard to notice.

Actual numbers at the post and government projections have varied widely. In March, using Army data, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments projected the post would have an authorized strength of about 26,000 by the end of 2013, with hundreds of more soldiers coming in future years.

The post is now authorized to house more than 24,000 troops, but has about 22,700 on its rolls.

The changing numbers are driven by the nomadic life of the soldier - at any time, thousands of troops are coming and going from Fort Carson, including 500 from the 4th Infantry Division headquarters who will head to Afghanistan in the next few weeks.

That means, on the sunny side, that Fort Carson could lose the 1,500 on paper and actually house more soldiers after the cuts.

"The impact, with the troop movements we have had since 2001 and their impact on the southern part of the city and the Fountain Valley, should be relatively minor and not out of line with recent troop deployments," said Tom Binnings, a senior partner of Summit Economics LLC, a Colorado Springs economic research and consulting firm.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, said the post is actually growing in his estimation.

"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," Lamborn said. "Downsizing at Fort Carson simply does not make sense."

The Army continues to add soldiers to the post's new helicopter brigade, with about 1,200 of the unit's 2,700 soldiers still due to arrive.

Determining exactly what Fort Carson will look like in 2017 requires a crystal ball.

Post spokesman Lt. Col. Armando Hernandez said the Pentagon hasn't passed down staffing plans to Fort Carson officials.

"We haven't received specific guidance," he said.

The worst of the cuts could be yet to come.

The Army based its figures on a budget that hasn't been approved and doesn't account for $500 billion of the $1 trillion projected cuts the Pentagon faces over the next 10 years. If the second half of the cuts, under budget-cutting program called sequestration, take hold, more soldiers will be trimmed, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said in a Tuesday news conference at the Pentagon.

"If full sequestration occurs, this will be only the first step," he said.

The Pentagon studied cutting up to 8,000 troops from Fort Carson in the weeks before Tuesday's announcement. Community leaders lobbied to avoid steep cuts, which could have sent the post's estimated annual economic impact of $2.2 billion plunging.

The cut of 1,500 from projected troop levels led to sighs of relief.

"I am pleased with that number. I had heard rumors that the troop cuts would be 3,000. In a sense, given that the Army is cutting 80,000 troops or 14 percent of its forces, we are coming out proportionally better off and we will end up with a greater share of the Army than we have now," Binnings said.

The softened blow comes because the Army is planning to increase the size of Fort Carson's three remaining combat brigades. The Army estimated that while a 3,800-soldier brigade is being eliminated, as many as 3,000 of those soldiers will stay in Colorado Springs.

Odierno said beefing up the Army's remaining brigades will make them better able to fight future enemies.

John Kurak, a former Fort Carson command sergeant major, said the Army downsized its brigades by hundreds of soldiers for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, making reinforcements necessary.

"In the current configuration, you have no reserve," he said.

The changes mean Fort Carson's longest-serving unit will disband. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team was assigned to Fort Carson after its served in Vietnam and has remained at the post ever since.

The 4th Infantry Division will be left with two armored brigades and a light infantry brigade.

It's unclear when the changes will occur.

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