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Announcement on Fort Carson troop reductions expected soon



Local officials are keeping their fingers crossed as an announcement on military cuts draws near. While the news was expected last week, now it's been put off until after Congress returns from the Fourth of July recess.

The worst-case downsizing scenario at Fort Carson would eliminate 16,000 troops, or nearly two-thirds of those currently stationed at the Mountain Post. The result, Regional Business Alliance chief defense industry officer Andy Merritt has said, would be a $1 billion drain from the local economy.

Though rumors are floating that Carson's cut could be much less and won't exceed that of a brigade, which is about 3,000 soldiers, Merritt says, "I can't get anyone to confirm any details. They have been pretty tight-lipped. There's a lot of rumors out there. I'm hopeful that any cuts we get will be on the smaller end of things."

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, declined to comment through a spokesman, noting a "full congressional briefing is still forthcoming."

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Army built up to 570,000 soldiers at its peak in 2008 during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But financial constraints today find the Pentagon wanting to cut 80,000 soldiers by September, and budget pressures, including from sequestration, could force a reduction to 420,000.

Key elements to Fort Carson maintaining current strength are community support and partnerships that reduce the federal government's costs, officials have said. When Army brass came to the Springs earlier this year as part of a "listening tour" of 30 cities potentially affected by cuts, city leaders packed Centennial Hall and Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke on behalf of the state's support.

"The support from the community, for not only the soldier but their families," says El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey via email, "is also something that is not matched in other communities."

More tangible, Hisey adds, is the state and local investment of more than $100 million on roads and access points for the post. Those include a new entrance off Colorado Highway 115, as well as off Interstate 25. Commissioner Sallie Clark also notes that the county recently landed a planning grant to develop an additional entrance gate farther south from I-25.

Clark trumpets a "one-of-a-kind partnership with the Army" in developing the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex, and competitive rates from Colorado Springs Utilities that can help Carson reach its energy-efficiency goals.

Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, with its 235,000 acres in southeast Colorado used as a training ground, really makes Carson unique, Hisey says, calling it a "rare asset found at very few posts."

That training site has caused tension between citizens and the Army, with one group persuading Congress a few years ago to back away from plans to expand the site. Then, in 2009, the state Legislature passed a bill banning the sale or lease of state-owned land to expand PCMS.

Another sticking point with some residents is the growing use of nearby federal lands for High Altitude Mountain Environmental Training for Carson's new Combat Aviation Brigade, as well as visiting units.

The Army uses 12 landing zones in the Pike & San Isabel National Forests and has applied for long-term use of 43 landing zones over Bureau of Land Management land southwest of Colorado Springs. The proposal has drawn criticism, and based on citizen input, the Army is amending its proposal.

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