By Bridget Carlson, Harker Heights Evening Star
On Tuesday, Fort Hood officials with the help of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance held a two hour listening session at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, to explain what the Army is doing about the current drawdown and the process that will be used to reach stationing decisions.
The listening session also allowed Army officials to listen to community input, so they can carry that input back to the senior leadership of the Army before a decision is made.
“The decision will be made by late spring or early summer, but I assure you that at this time no decision has been made,” said Col. Karl Konzelman, chief of the Army Force Management Division, G 3/5/7 at the Headquarters, Department of the Army.
Several key speakers and community leaders spoke to inform Army officials what our local area has to offer to those that are stationed here.
“Fort Hood’s bang for the buck is a big part of what sets it apart from other posts. Fort Hood is highly cost effective for taxpayers as three out of four Fort Hood soldiers live off post throughout the communities in central Texas. These communities play vital roles in providing services to the soldiers their families. The low cost of living in central Texas and normally inexpensive utilities also saves the Army money,” said Texas Senator John Cornyn via a pre-recorded message. Due to his current obligations in Washington he was not able to attend todays listening session in person.
Fort Hood is one of the Army’s largest military installations with 34 million square feet of floor/office space, 6×19 miles of maneuver space, 50,000 acres of light infantry/stryker maneuver, and a state of the art railhead.
“When it comes to training there’s no place to train soldiers more cost efficiently than Fort Hood. When a unit can drive to its maneuver training areas and gunnery ranges directly from its motor pools, that saves the Army money,” said Sen. Cornyn.
In addition to Fort Hood being cost effective for the Army, the communities surrounding Fort Hood have a lot to offer soldiers and their families as well as retirees that have decided to make this area their permanent home, which include education, healthcare, job search help, and low cost living.
Central Texas has eight school districts that are educating the children of Fort Hood, a world-class community college, and a rapidly growing public upper level university. Killeen Independent School District (KISD) offers a full day, fully funded pre-k four-year-old program which all military family members are eligible for. Beginning junior year of high school, KISD students are able to attend a start of the art career center offering nine different programs of study to better prepare them for the workforce and for their higher education endeavor’s.
“Working with our higher education partners in the central Texas region which include both Central Texas College and Texas A&M University of Central Texas, we are able to provide unique opportunities for students to get diplomas, certifications, endorsements, and degrees to better position themselves for success in their future endeavors,” said Dr. John Craft, Superintendent of Killeen Independent School District.
Even though Fort Hood is building a bigger hospital, military families and retirees may still rely on outside care. Without the local area medical capabilities within the surrounding communities, families would be forced to leave the area.
“We are blessed with nationally recognized, highly valued healthcare resources that are very capable of supporting the needs of our military and civilian communities. This includes McClain’s Children’s Hospital, the only stand alone pediatric hospital between Dallas and Austin,” said Carlyle Walton, CEO, Metroplex Healthcare System.
Workforce Solutions of Central Texas over the past fifteen years has been a proactive part of Fort Hood, Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, and Central Texas working with veterans and increasing employment opportunities for the spouses of soldiers of Fort Hood.
“The Killeen workforce center is a full development 40,000 square foot facility located five miles from the main gate of Fort Hood. Job postings are open to veterans only for the first 48 hours. We have a variety of workshops to prepare job seekers with skills,” said Susan Kamas, Executive Director, Workforce Solutions of Central Texas.
Harker Heights has several programs and amenities to enhance the life of our military members and their families offering several parks, a veterans center that provides a broad range of counseling, home to the headquarters of the Military Child Education Coalition, and adaptive sports programs through the cities park department.
“Harker Heights remains committed to providing a high quality of life and quality of place for military families. We fully support our soldiers,” says Harker Heights Mayor Rob Robinson.
While the speakers of Tuesday’s listening session pleaded their case on why Fort Hood is named The Great Place and everything the surrounding communities have to offer, others were concerned with how downsizing Fort Hood would effect the local communities.
“If there were a major troop reduction in the area, it could have a great impact on our local volunteer fire department. Around 75 percent of our department is active duty military. We could possibly loose some of those members and not have many members left to respond to calls. This would put the citizens and property into jeopardy,” says Captain Jason Woodard, Central Bell Fire and Rescue.
No date has been set yet as to when Army officials will make a decision regarding the possible downsizing of troops and civilian personnel on Fort Hood.