Fort Carson will grow by a full brigade next year, adding 3,762 soldiers under an Army plan announced Thursday.
The arrivals will push the post’s population to a level not seen since the 1970s, and politicians say the move eliminates any possibility that the post will be closed in the near future.
The Colorado-bound 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division is serving in Iraq but had been stationed in Korea.
The soldiers will arrive here when their Iraq duty is over in July or August. Their families will come much sooner, with many showing up in the next few months.
Although the Pentagon describes the move to Carson as temporary, U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado Springs and others say the brigade is here to stay, and so are 15,845 other soldiers stationed at the post.
“It’s about as permanent as they get,” Hefley said. “The fact that they chose Fort Carson for these troops is great news.”
Hefley said the move is a clear sign that the Pentagon isn’t targeting Carson in its plan to close one in five military bases worldwide starting in 2005.
“This means that it’s a foregone conclusion that Fort Carson will stay open,” said John Pike, executive director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Viginiabased defense think tank. “They won’t bring a unit to a base, then immediately shut it down.”
The move reflects a change in U.S. military strategy that includes a major pullback of troops stationed in Europe and Asia.
The Army has had significant numbers of troops stationed in South Korea since the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War.
Having so many soldiers on foreign soil cut the Army’s ability to quickly address wars in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, said Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy.
“We want to be capable of moving quickly to do what we need to do anywhere in the world and do everything from peace operations to combat operations,” Feith said Thursday by telephone from Washington.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team is a tank-free unit that can be flown to hot spots around the globe. It includes a mechanized infantry battalion and two battalions of air assault troops who get to the fight in helicopters.
At Fort Carson, planners were just beginning to work out the logistics of the move Thursday. The base already has a waiting list for its 2,672 family homes that house about 11,000 people, and figuring out where to put additional troops will take time, said Lt. Col. David Johnson, a base spokesman.
“It’s too premature to look that far ahead,” he said.
The post has housed this many soldiers before.
In 1974, just after the Vietnam War, Carson housed 21,742 soldiers. Carson’s population dipped by 5,000 soldiers during the next three decades, with much of the decline coming with the 1994 decision to move the headquarters and two brigades from the 4th Infantry Division from Carson to Texas.
The base is scheduled to add more housing for single soldiers in 2005, with a $14 million barracks project that is tied into a larger spending bill before Congress. An additional $40 million is scheduled for work on training ranges at Carson.
By the time the 2nd Brigade arrives next summer, 7,000 Fort Carson soldiers will have left for Iraq. More than 1,800 soldiers from the 43rd Area Support Group will leave in October, and the 5,200-soldier 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment will head out in March.
Thursday, local officials rejoiced at the troop news.
“I think this is great, not only for the community of Colorado Springs and for Fort Carson, but it’s even better for (the soldiers’) families,” Mayor Lionel Rivera said. “I think they’ll love our community.”
“It’s good news,” said Chuck Brown, chairman of the El Paso County Board of Commissioners. “We have the space, and the Army couldn’t find a better location to bring those service people into — it’s sure better than Korea.”
Families of 2nd Brigade soldiers will come to Colorado Springs from all over the country.
Some soldiers in Korea are accompanied there by their families, but most serve a oneyear “hardship” tour there while their families stay in the United States.
Lt. Col. Thomas Budzyna, spokesman for 8th U.S. Army, Korea, said announcing the move while the 2nd Brigade is in Iraq takes stress off soldiers and their families, who wondered where the unit would wind up after its war tour.
“The soldiers know where their household goods are going to be shipped and family members know they can meet their loved ones at the Mountain Post,” he said early today in Korea.
Fort Carson was picked for the additional troops because it met several criteria. Johnson said the post’s training and medical facilities and its ability to expand helped.
Another factor was Colorado Springs’ strong support of the base and its soldiers, Hefley said.
“You cannot minimize the role the community plays in this,” he said.
Allard said presidential politics played no role in the move, but Pike, the think tank expert, said it’s hard to dimiss President Bush’s desire to solidify his lead over challenger John Kerry in Colorado polls before the Nov. 2 election.
“If the Democrats have not charged that the Republicans are trying to buy a battleground state with this, then the Democrats are asleep at the switch,” Pike said.
Helfey and Allard said the move of the 2nd Brigade is probably not the last addition Fort Carson will see in the coming years.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they find they can move more troops into Fort Carson,” Allard said.
“But we’ll have to see how we can handle the 3,700 first.”
Dennis Huspeni & Tom Roeder