Endurance test designed to help soldiers understand unit's heritage
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Infantry troops with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team run the obstacle course while competing in the annual Apache Warrior games at Fort Carson on Wednesday, October 19, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

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Fort Carson's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, now a light infantry unit, will inherit a fleet of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles when it returns home from Afghanistan late this year.

The move is part of a wider Army plan to match with rivals including Russia and China, and it gives Fort Carson's 4th Infantry Division a bigger armored fist in combat. It also fits with the Colorado Springs post, which has facilities to hold as many as three brigades of tanks.

"I think it's real good news," said Bob Lally, who heads the Military Affairs Council of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

"The Army has to adapt and be dynamic for the mission set of the future."

While the Army is examining alternatives to putting the tanks at Fort Carson, several Army sources - including two at the Pentagon - said stationing the tanks elsewhere has been all but ruled out.

Fort Carson was home to two full armored brigades until 2013, when one was cut as part of Pentagon budget cutting. Since then, the post has housed one armored brigade, a brigade of eight-wheeled Stryker vehicles and the ground-pounding infantry formation.

Trading the infantry troops for a unit with 87 72-tom M-1 tanks and 132 Bradley Fighting vehicles could be an economic boon for the Pikes Peak region, Lally said.

Armored units require a bigger civilian maintenance staff and increased spending on everything from electronics to massive quantities of diesel fuel.

While M-1 tanks have been around since the 1980s, armored units fell out of fashion as the military pivoted to battle insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The tanks proved more hindrance than help in Iraq, where many battles were fought in tightly packed cities, and Afghanistan, where much of the fighting takes place in mountainous terrain that tanks can't tackle.

But growing rivalries with China and Russia have put tanks back in style as the U.S. ponders battles against well-armored enemies.

That was cemented this year when the Pentagon released a paper outlining its new national defense strategy.

"Long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities," the paper said.

The basic design of the M-1 is more than 30 years old, but it remains the top tank on the planet, thanks to constant updates of its electronics and weapons. The latest version includes a remote-controlled machine gun, an upgraded 120-mm gun and full-color electronic displays for the crew.

The Army pledged a year ago to build a new active-duty tank brigade, a move that many insiders said was targeted at Fort Carson.

Fort Carson made the short list for the tank brigade because it has the facilities, including training ranges, that an armored unit needs.

Putting the tanks here would cost the Army $9 million versus an estimated $195 million to put them at Fort Bliss, Texas.

While Fort Carson is the clear choice, federal regulations require the Army to study alternatives, which include bases in Texas, Kansas and Georgia.

Getting more tanks at Fort Carson, though, will require leaders to keep the peace with southern neighbors. Army documents say getting the tanks here will require more training at Fort Carson's Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site.

In 2015, the Army finalized a new environmental impact statement for the 235,000-acre training site east of Trinidad that allows for more training there. But any shift at Piñon Canyon could trigger outcry from neighbors who successfully fought an Army effort to expand the training range a decade ago.

The Army says that while it plans more training at Piñon Canyon, expansion remains off the table.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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.