June 6, 2013
By Andrea Stone (Fort Carson)
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- What started as average turnout ended as standing-room-only at the joint town hall meeting with Fort Carson leaders and the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments May 30.
"It's been a lot of fun to watch the chairs being added in the back," said Dennis Hisey, chair, El Paso County Board of County Commissioners and chair, PPACG Board of Directors. "You always wonder what turnout is going to be like, and this is as good as ever."
The meetings have been an opportunity for community and business leaders, government officials and Fort Carson leaders to discuss issues and work together to find solutions.
"We're just glad to see this amazing partnership," said Rob MacDonald, executive director of PPACG. "We have the business community, we have the military, we have the nonprofits, we have the government -- all working together to get some things done."
The commanding general, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, highlighted the importance of working with the local community.
"We've got absolutely tremendous support from this community," said Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera. After learning of the possible loss of 8,000 or the gain of 3,000 Fort Carson troops, the governor, senators, congressmen, local officials and community leaders wrote letters in support of Fort Carson -- more than 22 pages -- that were provided to the Army and the Department of Defense.
With an estimated impact of $2.2 billion to the local economy, and 70 percent of Soldiers living off post, Fort Carson's effect on the community is large.
Although community outreach efforts are being scaled back due to budget constraints, maintaining the relationship between Fort Carson and the community and learning from local leaders are critical, LaCamera said.
"We're transitioning from fighting for security to fighting within a sovereign nation (Afghanistan), and they are building a sovereign nation, and in that, there's more than just military," he said. "There's diplomatic, information, economic, law enforcement, intelligence and finances, … and we don't have that expertise. … You (community leaders) do this on a day-to-day basis. You run communities. You run businesses."
Because of the budget issues, this will be the last joint town hall meeting. The Fort Carson Regional Growth Plan, which led to the town hall meetings, has been funded through the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment, but that process will be completed at the end of June, said Kate Hatten, program manager, military impact planning, PPACG.
"Regional coordination with the military-community partnering is absolutely going to continue. Funding for the town halls is, at this point, unclear," she said.
There is the possibility of smaller events going forward.
"We certainly want to continue the conversation, to make sure that the community has an opportunity to hear from Fort Carson and vice versa," she said.
Economic issues, including the effects of sequestration, were among the main topics discussed, but it wasn't all bad news for the local community.
There's been a hiring freeze since November for Evans Army Community Hospital. They've since lost 150 employees through attrition, according to Col. John McGrath, commander, Medical Department Activity.
"When (the)furlough hits, we'll lose 20 percent of our capacity, which means all those patients we would have seen will now be referred downtown to providers, all the hospital beds that we lose, the babies that will be delivered, will be pushed out (to the community)," he said.
Between the furlough for Department of Defense civilians beginning July 8 and cuts in funding for some of Fort Carson's infrastructure and maintenance, sequestration will have a significant impact for fiscal 2013, according to Col. David Grosso, garrison commander.
However, some programs -- such as the Fort Carson Transition University for Soldiers transitioning from military to civilian life -- benefit from the community partnership, and may be less affected by sequestration.
The program, which lasts for nine days, is funded by the military for five days. The other four are provided by volunteers from the community at no cost to the government, Grosso said.
Fort Carson has also positively impacted the Colorado Springs community, Hisey said.
"Kudos to Fort Carson. They led the effort in sustainability in the public sector here in the El Paso County region," he said. "Virtually every sustainability movement since then has been a spinoff of that, and quite often was led by Fort Carson until we could handle it on our own."
While Fort Carson's leadership is important, LaCamera recognized the importance of community leaders as well.
"We're not going to sell democracy to other people if we don't sell the whole package, and the whole package involves all the elements of our national power, and what you all represent in this room here is the other three-quarters of it. The military is just one piece," he said.