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Colorado Springs Group Trying to Get Ahead of Military Base Closures

By 2005, there were 69 buildings on Schriever Air Force Base, which occupied more than 4,100 acres. The base was renamed in honor of Gen. Bernard Schriever in 1998 and was the first base to be named for a living individual. (Air Force/Courtesy Photo)
By 2005, there were 69 buildings on Schriever Air Force Base, which occupied more than 4,100 acres. The base was renamed in honor of Gen. Bernard Schriever in 1998 and was the first base to be named for a living individual. (Air Force/Courtesy Photo)

The next round of base closures is at least two years away, but local military boosters are ramping up efforts to protect local installations and move more troops to town.

The push has its origins in the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance's 2015 efforts to protect Fort Carson from cuts, but leaders say it will be more sophisticated than the postcard campaign that turned heads at the Pentagon.

"We want Colorado Springs to pop up in conversations with the leaders," said Andy Merritt, who heads military programs for the business alliance.

Getting that to happen means hitting the road. Merritt is pulling together a team of local base-boosters to travel to military trade shows and conventions, including the Association of Defense Communities in Charleston, S.C., in late February.

Matt Borron, chief operating officer of the Association of Defense Communities in Washington, D.C., said the move will help Colorado Springs match communities in Texas, North Carolina and elsewhere that have turned out in force at events to advocate for their bases.

"It's about getting your base front and center in front of these decisions-makers," he said.

A year ago, Colorado Springs mobilized to protect Fort Carson, which faced cuts of as many as 16,000 of its 24,500 soldiers.

Hundreds of people turned up at a 2015 meeting to lobby the Army, and thousands sent postcards to the Pentagon to protest potential cuts. Other installations were slashed, but Fort Carson saw a reduction of fewer than 400 soldiers.

Local officials say that campaign may have gotten notice from other military branches, helping push a new unit to Schriever Air Force Base. The Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center said last year will unite the military and intelligence agencies to examine how they can work together in space.

There are opportunities for more growth, Merritt said. But locals are wary of what the Pikes Peak region could lose.

For the past three years, top brass from the Air Force and Army have called for base closures. The generals argue that they need to shutter installations to deal with shirking budgets while maintaining capabilities needed in battle.

Congress has balked at ordering the first Base Realignment and Closure round since 2005. But insiders say that will change as soon as 2017, when a new president takes the job.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson said the possibility of base closings means Colorado Springs needs to ramp up its public relations campaign now.

"You don't need to wait for someone to say there's going to be base closing before you decide what to do," said Anderson, the executive director of strategic military, science, space and security initiatives at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Jay Lindell, who lures aerospace industry and military work to Colorado for the state's Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said his agency is working to show lawmakers the value of Colorado's military bases. Members of the General Assembly will get the message from the Legislature's growing aerospace and defense caucus, which holds regular meetings on the topic.

But getting locals in front of military leaders is key, too, he said.

Merritt said by heading to the conventions and other gatherings, Colorado Springs leaders will be able to tell how much the community has done to make life on its military bases better. In recent years, Pikes Peak region governments have worked to improve road access to bases and to buy land near Fort Carson so housing developments don't hamper military missions. The region also has a legion of charities aimed at helping troops and their families, he said.

But that may not save local installations from cuts if the local effort isn't advertised.

"If the decision-makers don't know what you're doing, the effect is minimal," Merritt said.

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