The Gazette: Helicopter Brigade Would Keep Boom Going at Fort Carson

February 7, 2011
In The News

By Tom Roeder

Fort Carson is one step away from growing by 2,800 soldiers - a move that would push the post’s population to levels unseen since World War II.

The Army announced Friday that Fort  Carson is its preferred location for a planned brigade of helicopters. A final decision on whether the post gets the brigade with its 120 helicopters is expected within 30 days.

The additional soldiers would push the post’s population of GIs to almost 30,000 and bring another surge of military construction to the Pikes Peak region, with $300 million or more spent to house the new unit.

The brigade would be formed at Fort Carson in 2013 and would also bring hundreds of civilian jobs, because the helicopter unit would require contractors for aircraft maintenance, high-tech weapons and training simulators.

"This is excellent news," said U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. "It’s a big boost for the whole community."

Lambornsaid getting additional money for a new brigade - which would be the Army’s 13th aviation brigade - could still prove troublesome amid budget tightening, but said he expects few problems getting appropriations for the unit through Congress.

The Army has planned a series of cuts to other programs but has maintained that increasing its aviation capability is a top priority.

Fort Carson leaders have worked for years to get more helicopters on the post. In Afghanistan, where most of the post’s combat soldiers have headed in recent years, helicopters are a prime mode of transit and supply, creating an argument that soldiers need to train with helicopters in Colorado to get ready for war.

Brig. Gen. James Doty, Fort Carson’s commander, said the area’s high altitude and tortuous landscape makes it a perfect place for helicopter crews to prepare for combat.

While the community will notice more noise, Doty said they’ll also see "significant positive economic impact," if the brigade comes to town.

In addition to the soldiers, the troops will bring as many as 4,000 family members to Colorado Springs. With less than 30 percent of the troops living on post, that will create a demand for scores of houses and apartments.

The brigade would also mean the post’s construction boom - $2 billion since 2005 - would continue, said Brian Binn, president of military affairs for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

"We were at a point where most of the military construction was coming to an end," Binn said. "The aviation brigade will help to keep the construction piece on Fort Carson up and running."

Colorado Springs has seen a military boom in recent years, with the 4th Infantry Division and other, smaller units coming to town.

The post has doubled in size since 2003, going from 13,500 troops to about 27,000 - creating hundreds of local construction jobs building everything from offices to barracks. Defense Department spending now accounts for 40 percent of the economy in the Pikes Peak region, economists estimate.

Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera said he and other leaders have lobbied the Army for the helicopter unit at every opportunity. He said the city’s military-friendly climate is a key selling point.

"It’s a testament to this community and how much we support the military," Rivera said. "The Pentagon knows when they put a unit here in Colorado Springs, it will be taken care of by this community."

Not everyone is happy with the prospect of more helicopters at Fort Carson.

Bill Sulzman, a Colorado Springs activist, is leading a "Stop the Whop Whop" campaign to block the Army move.

He said he’s worried that the serenity of the community will be disturbed by increased helicopter training.

"I’m very disappointed," Sulzman said. "I would like for this thing not to happen."

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