Transformation: Stateside bases prepare for influx
Stars and Stripes June 20, 2007
WASHINGTON — Kansas’ Fort Riley and Texas’ Fort Bliss will see tens of thousands of new faces on base in the next few years and still need hundreds of millions in construction work to get ready for them.
But officials at both posts say they aren’t worried.
“We’re very confident that everything will be ready in time,” said Linda Hoeffner, deputy garrison commander at Fort Riley. “We have new housing being built on post, and the outside community has stepped up, too.”
Both posts predict barracks, motor pools, dining halls and roadways will be finished before they see major waves of troops from Europe starting next summer.
“We still have a lot of time between now and then,” said Clark McChesney, director of the Fort Bliss transformation office. “Over the last 14 months, we’ve had a lot of dialogue with planners and with the community, and we’ve seen a lot of progress.”
Fort Riley has already begun more than $269 million in construction this fiscal year. Fort Bliss is scheduled to perform more than $900 million in military construction work in the next two years.
Officials at both facilities said delays on the federal level over base closure funds have not played a major role in construction plans.
More than half of nearly $6 billion in projects were delayed by several months as Congress debated a supplemental funding bill. But Hoeffner and McChesney said their projects for this year were for the most part given first priority on funding because of the importance of getting their bases ready for incoming soldiers.
Neither base has plans to use temporary housing facilities or put troops up in local hotels.
“So we’re still on track to be done on time,” McChesney said.
Both posts have held regular sessions with local civic leaders to make sure off-base housing, school space and other community services are ready for the influx of new soldiers and their families.
For Fort Bliss, located just outside El Paso, that’s less of an issue. While city and state leaders have petitioned for more financial aid to expand schools and provide more health care services, most locals expect the 45,000 newcomers won’t severely strain resources in the nearly 750,000-person city.
Still, a major school expansion plan, a $350 million traffic project near the base, and the construction of the largest inland water desalinization plant in the world have all broken ground this year with funds related to the military moves, according to Richard Danyoube, president of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce.
Fort Riley’s additions will create a much larger impact on its community. Junction City, the closest metropolitan area to the military base, has about 16,000 residents right now. Nearby Manhattan hovers around 50,000 people.
“We’re looking at Junction City almost doubling in the next few years,” said Sam Robinson, director of the Junction City/Geary County Military Affairs Council.
“Before any of the [Army] moves were announced, we’d usually get 30 or 35 new homes built in a year. This year, the city approved 2,000 new housing permits” she said
Still, Robinson said she believes local builders are ahead of demand, and will be ready with sufficient apartment and single family home options before the troops from Europe arrive.
Geary County School District, which covers Fort Riley, will open a new elementary school and high school expansion early next year. Robinson said teachers already have been hired to staff many classes, even though the anticipated rush of military students is still one or two years away.
Last summer, voters passed a bond issue to expand the local hospital. A 600-person call center recently announced plans to move into the area and hire local workers.
“We’ve got a lot of balls in the air, but we’re confident we’re going to meet all of the need,” Robinson said.
Five years ago, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent marching orders to Marine Gen. James L. Jones, telling him that the U.S. European Command needed an overhaul to meet the unique challenges of the 21st century.Jones’ plan, started in 2002, called for the moving of thousands of troops from Europe back to the United States, moving troops into Eastern Europe and setting up forward operating sites in Africa.But now, Jones’ successor — Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock — is questioning whether pulling troops out of Europe during this time of war is a prudent measure.Stars and Stripes reviews the status of the military’s transformation in Europe in a series of stories that look at the past, present and future.
The stories:DAY 1:EUCOM leaders address transformation issuesDAY 2: A look at troop strength through the yearsDAY 3:How the military closes its basesTODAY: Stateside bases get ready for influx of troopsDAY 5: Air Force, Navy also getting new lookDAY 6: The impact of politics on transformation
Today's related story:Military is adjusting to a new footprint in Europe