FORT BLISS, Texas — Even as the Army enters a period of uncertainty with the drawdown in Afghanistan, plans to reduce the size of its force and budget cuts, Fort Bliss will be "OK" and will continue to "play a vital role" in the nation's defense, said the post's new commanding general on Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Twitty took over as commanding general of Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division on Tuesday. A day later, he was the keynote speaker during the annual State of the Military lunch organized by the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce.
"I can almost guarantee you that in the past 20 years we've been doing this, that not one of those other commanding generals had to do it the next day after their change of command," Twitty said to laughter.
Almost 600 Fort Bliss and El Paso community leaders attended the event at the Centennial Club.
Despite plans that could cut the Army's strength from the 565,000 soldiers it had in 2011 down to as few as 450,000 by 2017, Fort Bliss should be able to weather the challenges ahead, Twitty said.
Fort Bliss has positioned itself as a regional training center that is among the best in the Army, Twitty said.
More than $6 billion has been invested in the installation during the most recent Base Realignment and Closure process, which transformed it from an air-defense installation to the home of the 1st Armored Division, Twitty said. The division moved here from Germany in May 2011.
Since 2006, Fort Bliss has exploded in size from about 9,000 soldiers to more than 32,000, marking the largest expansion of any post since World War II. With families and civilian employees factored in, the Fort Bliss community approaches almost 100,000 people.
The 1st Armored Division has also gained a reputation for being an "invaluable force capable of executing a diverse array of missions — from fighting insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq" to working with our nation's allies in Jordan, Twitty said.
Fort Bliss also includes important tenant organizations like the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, Joint Task Force North and others that contribute to making it a valuable installation, Twitty said.
"All these organizations play a critical role in our Army and in the defense of our nation," Twitty said. "Everything we do at Fort Bliss complements our Army's mission to fight and win our nation's wars."
Twitty is no stranger to Fort Bliss and El Paso and the recent history of expansion at the post. He served as a brigade commander here from 2005 to 2008 and then later as a deputy commanding general for operations for Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division from September 2010 to March 2012.
Most recently, he served as deputy chief of staff for operations, training and plans for U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.
That last position gave him "deep insight" into the future direction of the Army and Fort Bliss' role in it, he said.
The Army, for instance, has created a regionally aligned force structure which will allow smaller units to respond quicker to threats around the globe, Twitty said. Most of the 1st Armored Division is regionally aligned with Central Command, which oversees operations throughout the Middle East. The division's 4th Brigade is in the midst of a year-long train-up and will become regionally aligned with Africa Command.
Threats still exist around the world, and the Army and its soldiers will need to continue to play a critical role in safeguarding the nation, Twitty said.
"No matter how innovative we are with our technology, no machine or drone can replace a living and breathing American soldier who is willing to volunteer to serve in defense of this nation," Twitty said to a chorus of "Hooahs!" from the crowd. "Regardless of the end strength of the Army, our leaders at Fort Bliss will continue to train our soldiers to the highest level possible so they are ready for the uncertainties that present themselves."
Richard Dayoub, president and chief executive officer for the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce, called Twitty's report "good news" for Fort Bliss and El Paso. But El Paso community leaders still need to be vigilant and continue to educate leaders in the Army and Pentagon about the importance of Fort Bliss and the myriad ways the community supports the installation, he said.