Fifteen years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, local military families face deployments to Afghanistan and dangers of war while organizations that help veterans, whose population here has boomed, face higher demand for services.

Meanwhile, leaders say the fundraising power of 9/11 has diminished, leaving those charities to tighten their belts.

"The need is going to continue to be there to provide support for the men and women who left the military," said Terrance McWilliams, who heads military programs for the El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs. "The challenge is after 15 years, the country has kind of grown weary over this long-term conflict with no end in sight."

Colorado Springs mobilized for battle against al-Qaida terrorists as the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York. At the home of North American Aerospace Defense Command, leaders inside Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station ordered the grounding of all commercial flights on 9/11 and scrambled fighters to protect American cities from further strikes.

"I believe except for Washington, D.C., and New York, no other community was as active on that day as this one," said Don Addy, who heads the pro-military Colorado Thirty Group, an association of business and community leaders. "This was a very active place on 9/11, and for that reason we had a lot of people who were serving that day and remember it every year."

The Pikes Peak region rallied around its troops after 9/11 and in the years that followed.

The Home Front Cares organized in 2003 to provide cash grants for needy military families and veterans.

"I'm proud of the fact that this organization has responded and goes to where the needs are," said April Speake, Home Front director.

But the charity, which helped 1,600 families in 2015, saw its revenue flatten, from a peak of $866,879 in 2014 to $853,694 last year, according to reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

The tough sledding for Home Front in 2015 came as Americans opened their wallets more than ever before - giving a record $373 billion to charitable causes in 2015, according to a study from Indiana University.

Speake, who left the charity last week to take a city job, said she's worried that donors have begun to forget the tragedy that led to the formation of Home Front and other local military-aimed charities.

"People have become very far removed from 9/11," she said.

The attacks, which gripped America on live television, spurred an unprecedented outpouring of support. Donations for the victims of 9/11, including help to families of the nearly 3,000 people who were killed, quickly totaled more than $2.8 billion.

There's plenty of help being funneled to troops and veterans. On Wednesday, a snaking line of cars inched through a Colorado Springs parking lot where The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes gave away a week's worth of food to 400 military families.

"Today is to thank folks for their service," said Charles Bogle, a retired Army colonel from Westcliffe who sits on the charity's board of directors.

The coalition saw an uptick in revenue in 2014, the most recent year of tax returns available, topping $18 million in donations. But the group also saw a spike in demand and finished the year in the red by $500,000, IRS reports show.

Those numbers reflect the growing population of America's post-9/11 veterans, which is approaching 3 million and is expected to approach 4 million by the end of the decade.

"Even though the wars have ended, the aftermath continues," said the coalition's Juan Perez, a former Fort Carson soldier who lost sight in his left eye and suffered brain damage in an accident in Baghdad.

Speake said that in Colorado Springs, the wars that followed 9/11 are far from over. More than 2,000 Fort Carson soldiers are deployed to Afghanistan where they are helping train local troops.

The threat of future deployments looms as politicians argue over tactics to destroy the Islamic State terror group - an offshoot of al-Qaida that controls wide swaths of Iraq and Syria.

"On a day-to-day basis, they are forgotten," Speake said of the American troops still overseas.

The wars brought a boom in the number of troops assigned to the five bases in the Pikes Peak region and the number of veterans who live here.

The veteran population in El Paso County, estimated at just over 70,000 in 2000, is expected to hit about 85,000 this year. The number of troops at local bases ballooned from just over 25,000 in 2000 to more than 40,000 this year.

But charities that help those troops and veterans may be battling an alarming trend uncovered by Indiana University researcher Sara Konrath, who works in the school's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Through surveys and other methods, Konrath showed that empathy - that tugging force that's tied to charitable giving - is a dwindling force in America. Trends show empathy, the ability to understand another's plight, is down among Americans by 40 percent since the 1980s.

That could lead to a frosty reception for charities seeking new donors.

"They're not going to feel a responsibility to help," Konrath said of would-be donors.

Addy, though, said he's sure that Colorado Springs won't suffer a lack of empathy. The nonprofit sector keeps growing with new ways to help troops and veterans, he said, citing the new Mount Carmel Center of Excellence, which is designed to give veterans a one-stop shop for assistance.

Locals, he said, can't forget the 9/11 attacks or the years of war that followed, claiming the lives of more than 400 local troops.

"We hear it echo all the time," Addy said. "The people here in this community are wonderful."

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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