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Redeployments, BRAC Lead to Crowded Posts

Army Times - December 18, 2011, By Michelle Tan and John Ryan - Staff writers

As the withdrawal from Iraq comes to a close and surge troops deployed to Afghanistan begin coming home, installations across the Army are bracing for the return of thousands of soldiers.

Traffic is seen entering a gate of the United States Army base Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Wash.

Coupled with the completion of the 2005 base realignment and closure moves, many posts are for the first time in years expecting traffic gridlock, shortages of training space, longer lines in the post exchange and commissary, busier dining facilities and gyms, and higher demand for services, child care and housing.

Schools at many of the bases are already over capacity by as much as 50 percent, according to a Defense Department study.

All of the 3rd Infantry Division will be home for the holidays, a first in about five years, said Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Menger, a spokeswoman for the division.

More than 9,000 soldiers are expected to come home from Iraq by the end of the year to Fort Hood, Texas. This will give Fort Hood the most soldiers at home since the beginning of the war in Iraq, said Lt. Gen. Don Campbell, commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood.

“We went from a high of about 26,000 deployed this summer to about 19,000 deployed right now,” he said. “By next summer, we’ll be down to about 5,500 deployed.”

Two of the biggest gaining bases from BRAC are Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Bliss, Texas.

More than 55,000 soldiers — 10,000 more than 10 years ago — are now stationed at Fort Bragg, while Fort Bliss is now home to about 27,000 soldiers, a 200 percent increase from five years ago.

“The biggest change was the deployment of the 1st Armored Division here and also the standing up of the Brigade Modernization Command,” said Col. Joseph Simonelli, the garrison commander at Fort Bliss. “We really transformed significantly from a schoolhouse and training mentality to a truly war-fighting and developmental mentality.”

The BRAC growth at Fort Bliss resulted in the “biggest transformation on an installation since World War II,” Simonelli said.

To accommodate all this growth and to welcome home soldiers weary from 10 years of war and repeated deployments, leaders across the Army have been planning, preparing and building for months.

Here’s a look at how some key bases across the Army have been getting ready:

Fort Hood
About 48,000 soldiers are based at Fort Hood, including the 1st Cavalry Division.

Soldiers from the division’s 2nd and 3rd Brigade Combat Teams are returning from Iraq, while the division headquarters is deployed to Afghanistan.

Planning for the soldiers’ return began in June.

Projects include renovating company and brigade headquarters buildings; $10.9 million in renovations to the 1st Cavalry Division dining facility; and ongoing barracks renovations with the first seven completed in September.

Fort Hood officials also are working with the Texas Department of Transportation to ease potential traffic congestion. Key projects include building two bypass routes around the nearby city of Copperas Cove to the west of Fort Hood and a $59 million highway expansion on the west side of post.

The expansion of U.S. Highway 190 from Fort Hood’s main gate will create six main lanes of traffic on what is now a very congested area of the highway, officials said.

Campbell has asked school liaison officers to ensure children of deployed soldiers have what they need during this time of transition.

“We’re well postured and prepared for the soldiers who are coming home earlier than expected,” Campbell said. “We can handle the flow we’re anticipating.”

Preparing for the soldiers’ homecoming is a good challenge, Campbell said.

“We’re getting soldiers home earlier than expected and connecting them with their families,” he said.

One of Campbell’s priorities for returning soldiers is making sure they undergo the reintegration process, he said.

“That we don’t rush them through the process just because we have all of them coming back at one time,” he said. “We want to make sure they get as good a reintegration process as, let’s say, a single brigade or battalion coming back.”

Once the reintegration and reset periods are over, leaders at Fort Hood are focused on training and leader development, Campbell said.

To achieve those goals, Campbell has laid out five imperatives: teamwork, comprehensive fitness, leadership development and training, discipline and standards, and support for families and communities.

“We’ve got a challenge on our hands, where all these soldiers come back who have been doing multiple turns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they haven’t been doing much home station time,” he said. “We need to train and educate young leaders on expectations for discipline, training, while at home.”

Fort Bliss
This sprawling Texas post is one of the fastest growing in the Army.

The population exploded from about 9,000 soldiers to about 27,000 this year. And the population is expected to reach an estimated 30,600 by 2014.

Fort Bliss spans about 1.2 million acres. As a joint mobilization training center, Fort Bliss also mobilizes and deploys up to 20,000 troops every year.

To feed that growth, the post has seen some great improvements, Simonelli said.

One example is Freedom Crossing, which officials call a “lifestyle facility” featuring a post exchange, commissary, restaurants and a 10-screen movie theater with first-run movies.

The family-friendly spot also has a fountain, a playground, a fireplace and a lawn large enough for concerts and community events, Simonelli said.

But it took time to get Fort Bliss ready for the influx of troops, he said.

“Our challenge was we didn’t have facilities and units were coming here,” he said. “In the very beginning, in 2005, we had the units starting to arrive and no facilities, and we had to quickly build everything.”

Units were using temporary storage and temporary buildings — with the final construction finally completed in January 2011, Simonelli said.

“Our last BCT moved into their true facilities in January of this year,” he said.

The post also is adding new housing units, mostly for junior enlisted soldiers and their families, said Col. Leonard Wells, deputy garrison commander for transformation.

“We just completed construction of 202 new housing units, and we also have as part of that same phase 564 units planned,” he said.

Construction on an additional 408 new units will begin in late 2012 and is projected to be completed at the end of 2014, he said.

This will bring the total number of new housing units on post to 1,100, Wells said. This is in addition to the 3,200 units already on post.

Traffic congestion is another issue the post and its host city, El Paso, had to work on, including building a road connecting two local highways.

Officials added inbound lanes to some high occupancy gates and some gates are for inbound traffic only during certain hours in the morning, Simonelli said.

And there are more projects in the works, Simonelli said.

“We have one main road that connects West Bliss to East Bliss, and it’s only a two-lane road in some parts,” he said. “We still have a bottleneck we’re working through.”

Officials also are looking to improve quality of life for soldiers and their families.

Among the new additions is a new gym, child development centers and youth centers, a 600-seat chapel, and officials recently received approval to build a three-pool aquatic center.

Fort Bliss will add nine youth service facilities for a total of 11 across post, Wells said.

These facilities will include child development centers for infants to 5-year-old children, school-age services for those ages 6 through 10, and youth activity centers for 11- through 18-year-olds, he said.

“According to our Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation folks, 11 [centers] will support the child-care demand we have for the installation,” he said.

The installation also will soon have a new $980 million hospital, Wells said.

“The only other thing we need to shape in the main cantonment area would be in terms of physical fitness,” he said.

This includes multipurpose sports fields and other recreation and fitness facilities for soldiers.

“The Army funded [us] with what they absolutely thought we needed, but now that [the soldiers] are settled in, we’re making sure soldiers have access to healthy things, productive things,” Wells said.

Another effort to improve soldiers’ quality of life and maximize family time is moving physical training to 4 p.m. during the winter months, said Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, commanding general of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss.

“The goal is we want everyone to be home for dinner at 1800,” he said.

Also, every Thursday, soldiers are released for the day at 3 p.m. so they can spend time with their families, Pittard said.

When it comes to training, more than 1 million of Fort Bliss’ 1.2 million acres of land is dedicated as training ranges, Simonelli said.

Space wasn’t the issue for Fort Bliss, which boasts the largest training center in the Defense Department, Wells said.

“You can take three National Training Center maneuver boxes and put them inside of Fort Bliss’ training area,” he said.

What the installation had to do was shape and transform the training space, he said.

“It’s taking open desert and shaping those areas to support the training,” he said.

Construction included building training ranges and facilities suitable for individual, squad and platoon-level and battalion and brigade-sized training, he said.

“We needed machine gun ranges, sniper ranges,” he said. “We had to build infantry squad and platoon battle courses, the squad defense range, the urban assault course, convoy live fire.”

All this work cost about $400 million since 2006, Wells said.

“We’re trying to give the soldiers the most realistic training so they’re prepared,” he said. “Train them harder in peacetime so when they deploy, they’ve been through the rigors of those environments.”

Schools at Fort Bliss are also feeling the strain. Logan Elementary School was built for 589 students; it has 915 — 57 percent over capacity.

Fort Stewart
It’s been five years since all of the 3rd Infantry Division has been home for the holidays, but Fort Stewart, Ga., was designed to accommodate the 22,000 soldiers assigned there, said Col. Chris Hughes, the division deputy commanding general for support.

Some of the congestion on post is eased by having one of the division’s brigade combat teams at Fort Benning, Ga., and its combat aviation brigade at nearby Hunter Army Airfield.

Also, when soldiers from 4th BCT returned this summer from Iraq, they moved into a new brigade complex area that is right outside the main installation, Menger said.

The complex includes new barracks, motor pool, office space and dining facility. The soldiers also have access to their own mini-post exchange and shoppette and a gym featuring a rock climbing wall and indoor running track, Menger said.

The 3rd Infantry Division has been one of the most heavily deployed divisions in the Army, Hughes said.

“What I’m finding is the garrison has all the systems in place, because of the operations tempo,” Hughes said. “This division has rotated to Iraq on four separate deployments. Our [Combat Aviation Brigade] just did a year in Afghanistan. This division has had five-plus years of deployments in the last eight years.”

The division headquarters was slated to deploy to Iraq in November, but with the withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of the year, the deployment was put on hold.

“For the first time for a lot of soldiers, we’re all back at the same time and training and going through the different phases of the [Army Force Generation] model,” Hughes said. “It’s an interesting time. Us old-timers, this is what we’re used to.”

This extended time at home will give soldiers a chance to slow down, and give leaders a chance to mentor, coach and teach, Hughes said.

To ease some of the demand for services and resources, the post has opened two new child care centers in the last year alone, Menger said.

“As you know, anytime you’ve got 25,000 soldiers home, you’re going to have a mini baby boom,” she said. “We have 25 to 40 babies born every month now just in the last year. Our hospital is busy.”

The post also has a Soldier and Family Activity Center for families to gather, she said. In addition, officials opened another housing complex on post with more than 100 homes, while private companies continue to build houses in nearby Hinesville, she said.

Also new are two training ranges, with plans to add more every year at least through fiscal 2016, Menger said.

“We have over 25,000 acres of training space and over 40 ranges,” she said. “We’re constantly expanding the ranges.”

Fort Bragg
The changes mandated by BRAC were just the “tip of the iceberg” for the transformation at Fort Bragg, the Army’s most populous base, said Col. Steve Sicinski, the garrison commander.

“[BRAC] brought with it a lot of growth that didn’t get wrapped under BRAC, but it happened simultaneously,” he said. “The real BRAC changes that hit us were we absorbed Pope Air Force Base, gained 4,000 airmen, lost 7th [Special Forces] Group, about 2,200 soldiers, to Eglin [Air Force Base, Fla.], we gained Forces Command and [Army Reserve Command].”

Now that all the moves are completed, Fort Bragg has about 60,000 service members, about 55,000 of them soldiers, Sicinski said.

“We estimate 81,000 vehicles come on and off post every day at a nonpeak average,” he said. “If you have big events, like All-American Week, it was 150,000 [vehicles].”

About 13,000 soldiers from Fort Bragg are deployed, but the post still has experienced increased usage of all its services, Sicinski said.

More soldiers need identification cards, and the lines at the post exchange are longer, he said.

There are about 19,000 barracks spaces on post — about 3,000 for students who are training at Fort Bragg and the rest for the various units on post.

The post really felt the impact of its growth for the first time last year, Sicinski said.

“A year ago, most of the post population was back home,” he said. “It was an odd confluence of events where everyone was home and only about 4,500 soldiers were deployed for about six months. That’s when we really felt our growth. For the first time post-9/11, everybody was back and we felt the amount of growth we’ve had.”

Most of the construction on post is done now, with the BRAC deadline come and gone, and Sicinski expects Fort Bragg to return to a steady state of about $150 million in military construction each year.

“We don’t know yet what we’re going to look like once the Army starts to shrink back to its authorized end strength,” he said. “Army guidance today is to be prepared for a lack of milcon from [fiscal] 2015 on.”

For now, the facilities on Fort Bragg are sufficient to support the population, he said.

“We have more than enough barracks spaces for the population,” he said. “We’re more or less OK with company operations facilities. Because of the milcon tail that’s finishing up during these next couple of years, we think we’ll get more or less healthy on that.”

Sicinski said he’s more concerned about training space — or the lack thereof.

“That’s probably one of the biggest weaknesses we have once everybody is back,” he said. “When deployments aren’t what they are or have historically been, we’ll be back where Bragg was in the ’90s. Space is very tight.”

Fort Bragg spans 161,000 acres, and 135,000 of those are dedicated to training, including ranges, drop zones and maneuver areas.

“I would see my successor and successive senior commanders have to worry about that,” he said.

To ease some of the space restrictions, Fort Bragg officials got creative, Sicinski said.

There’s no more room to expand the ranges, and the Marines from nearby Camp Lejeune are also strapped for space, so much so they send their field artillery regiments to Fort Bragg for training every year, he said.

“What we’ve been able to get creative on was maneuver space,” he said. “We’ve been able to partner, especially with the special operations side, with local nature conservancy lands, a lot of land that’s in the public domain for hunting, that the state allows us to maneuver on during certain parts of the year. That adds several thousand extra acres to maneuver training space.”

In the future, as training demand continues to grow, Sicinski said post officials will have to “finely manage how people get to ranges and use them.

“It’ll be a limited resource that people will use in greater density and greater numbers,” he said.

Fort Benning
BRAC sent the armor school from its longtime home at Fort Knox, Ky., to Fort Benning, adding 3,000 soldiers, 1,200 civilians and 13,700 dependents. There also are some 18,000 soldiers who attend schools there.

To combat traffic congestion, officials built a large access control point on the post, modified the other gates, streamlined an intersection and widened the main road that leads into post, said George Steuber, the deputy garrison commander.

“I would imagine on a really bad day, you’d spend seven or eight minutes in traffic,” he said.

In terms of training ranges, Fort Benning added a completely automated range complex for tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and two stationary tank ranges, renovated another tank range and built 15 new small-arms ranges at the Oscar Range Complex, Steuber said.

“We built a huge new range complex,” he said. “We built, I think, 23 new ranges, including a digital multipurpose range complex.”

Now that the facilities are done, the problem officials have is scheduling, Steuber said.

Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, the 75th Ranger Regiment and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, which trains infantry and armor soldiers, all compete for range space and time, he said.

In the short term, unit commanders have pitched in to make scheduling easier, Steuber said, and a 9,000-acre training site is expected to be completed soon.

“We have a specific group, it’s a range deconfliction group, that sits down with all the units and goes through all of their training requirements, projects their training requirements, and then works out any resource conflicts that we are going to have,” he said. “That’s the only way you can do it. You can’t be a ‘Come as you are, hey, I want to do the range tomorrow.’ “

Other issues Fort Benning officials are working on include increasing Army Substance Abuse Program personnel by 400 percent, Steuber said.

The local community has pitched in, building new homes in anticipation of the BRAC growth, he said.

Fort Belvoir
Traffic congestion is a top issue at Fort Belvoir, which is in Virginia’s densely populated Fairfax County.

Fort Belvoir, already the single largest employer in Fairfax County, will house more workers than the Pentagon after all the BRAC moves are complete, according to a report by the Transportation Research Board, which studied the impact of BRAC on traffic around affected bases.

Simply widening the main road into the installation isn’t the answer, said Col. John Strycula, the garrison commander.

“No matter how much road improvements, if we go and widen Route 1 to 18 lanes, if we don’t reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles, from our perspective at Fort Belvoir, we’ll fill 18 lanes,” he said. “We won’t have parking for them when they get on the installation. So it’s got to be complete, and we’ve got to look at this from a holistic view.”

Mass transit has to be part of the solution, he said.

“We have to make mass transit a reality and a realistic approach,” he said.

The transportation board’s report echoed Strycula’s push for mass transit.

“Many thousands of military and civilian employees are being moved from employment areas near the center of the region, served by well-developed highway and transit networks, to more remote locations in which competitive transit service is virtually impossible to achieve,” according to the report. “Moreover, most employees travel in single-occupant cars.”

To ease some of the strain, Fort Belvoir has launched a ride-sharing website and encourages carpooling. The installation also is coordinating with local authorities to bus employees from nearby Metro stations.

Other options post officials are studying include alternate work schedules, Strycula said.

Post schools are crowded, too. Fort Belvoir Elementary School, built to hold 1,102 students is packed with 1,477, 37 percent over capacity.

Fort Carson
Fort Carson, Colo., is another post that is growing busier by the day.

Roads are congested and classrooms are full at the child development centers, said Col. Robert McLaughlin, the garrison commander.

Officials moved the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team to the airfield to spread out the on-post population, he said.

In addition, Fort Carson has more than doubled the size of the post exchange, built a new commissary that will open in early spring, and moved some unit physical training sessions to the afternoon.

Soldiers also will see changed traffic patterns, one-way streets and widened roads to help ease some of the traffic headaches, McLaughlin said.

Officials also encourage soldiers to share a ride, and the post is “in the process of working with Colorado Springs for public transportation, shuttle buses and vans,” he said.

When it comes to training, units will have to move to more deliberate training cycles in order to maximize Fort Carson’s available training ranges, McLaughlin said.

“I think like most important things, it will have to be very meticulous,” he said.

Looking into the future, Fort Carson expects to receive 2,700 more soldiers from a combat aviation brigade within the next six years, he said.

Fort Lewis (Joint Base Lewis-McChord)
Since 2003, Fort Lewis, Wash., has grown from 19,000 soldiers to more than 32,000, and more soldiers are coming as the Army creates a new combat aviation brigade based there.

Because of the congestion at the base, the new combat aviation brigade will be split between Lewis and Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

The traffic around the base has been the subject of a study by the Transportation Research Board, which said the population of more than 113,000 at the base and neighboring communities has local highways operating at capacity. Expanding the I-5 in the base corridor would cost an estimated $1 billion — which is currently not available. The Pentagon in November provided a grant of $5.7 million to widen some of the roads around the base, the Tacoma News Tribune reported.

Schools at the base are also jampacked, according to a Defense Department report. The Hillside Elementary School on post, built for 380 students, currently has 585 — 54 percent over capacity. Evergreen Elementary School, built for 589 students, has 734 — 25 percent over capacity.


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