Air Force plans to consolidate six security forces training centers at Fort Bliss
By DIANA WASHINGTON VALDEZ | El Paso Times, Texas | Published: June 28, 2013
FORT BLISS, Texas — The U.S. Air Force is looking to move its newly configured Security Forces Regional Training Center to Fort Bliss, the military's preferred site for the training operation, officials announced Thursday.
Community leaders welcomed the news of this development after Wednesday's announcement that the Army was deactivating seven company-size units, including an additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, at Fort Bliss.
Ten Army posts, including Fort Bliss, will have a brigade combat team deactivated between 2017 and 2019. The net loss for Fort Bliss will be 750 soldiers instead of 3,500, which would have been the worst-case scenario, officials said.
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, said military officials expect to make a final decision on the Air Force move later this summer. The Air Force also considered alternative sites for the training center in San Antonio, Wyoming and New Jersey. Fort Bliss emerged as the top choice.
"This is another indication that Fort Bliss is the premier military post in the nation," O'Rourke said. "Our community welcomes the additional service members and reservists. We have worked hard to make this a community that has an excellent quality of life for our service members, and I will continue working with (Fort Bliss commanding general Major Gen. Sean MacFarland) to do everything we can to promote the capabilities of Fort Bliss and the community that supports it."
The Air Force plans to consolidate six training centers, currently spread across the United States, at Fort Bliss, which would bring 127 airmen and 10 reservists to the post, said Army Maj. Joe Buccino, a spokesman for the post.
The Air Force already has a 37-member training unit at Fort Bliss — the 204th Security Forces Squadron, which will be part of the consolidation. The Air Force has operated a sniper school at Fort Bliss for years, Buccino said.
The newly consolidated training center would bring between 8,000 and 10,000 airmen to the post each year for security forces training beginning in 2014.
"The Air Force announcement is an indicator that Fort Bliss represents an important installation for the training of our force," Buccino said. "The Air Force based its decision on training areas and quality of facilities and infrastructure, and Fort Bliss ranks among the best installations in the Defense Department in those areas."
Along with O'Rourke, U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, also welcomed the development, which comes as the federal government plans for military installation reductions and realignments.
"The news should come as no surprise to people in El Paso," said Gallego, whose district includes part of El Paso County. "Fort Bliss and our military families are an integral part of El Paso, so I am pleased the Air Force has selected Fort Bliss as the site of this very important training center. Fort Bliss is a major economic driver for our community. This new addition only increases its impact. From my place on the House Armed Services Committee, I will always advocate strongly on behalf of our military bases and our military families."
Fort Bliss has been working to align itself more with White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base to position itself into the future as a regional training center for the Army and other services and federal agencies, military officials said.
"This is an example of how El Paso and Fort Bliss continue to work to send the right message about our community," said Rick Glancey, the armed forces chairman for the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce. "The lifestyle projects outside the (installation's) gates obviously resonate as a positive message. Not every community offers the Defense Department an opportunity to get off a plane at an international airport five minutes from the doorstep of a premier military installation.
"El Paso is a military town and Fort Bliss and the regional military complex provide every service the right mix for expeditionary skills training for sustainment and pre-deployment," Glancey said.
Buccino said the Air Force facility would be housed at Biggs Field, behind the Sergeants Major Academy, and that the airmen who come for training would also have a significant economic impact on El Paso businesses.
"Depending on their mission, the airmen are going to be trained in preparation for worldwide deployments, and depending on their assignments, the training will last anywhere from 10 days to 60 days," Buccino said. "They will also train K-9 units here. Airmen will be trained to provide security in combat and non-combat areas.
"There will be graduations, and the airmen's families will travel to attend these ceremonies."