Political rivals put aside differences in support of Fort Carson

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Threatened cuts at Fort Carson brought political differences crashing down Tuesday night as rival politicians joined forces to plead with the Pentagon to spare the post. 

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, stood with Senate President Bill Cadman, a Colorado Springs Republican, at the four-hour Colorado Springs meeting on the proposed cut of 16,000 soldiers at the 24,500-soldier post. 

They've stood on opposite sides of gun control measures, taxes and the budget, but they sang the same tune in Centennial Hall.

"We have long, proud history with the military here in the Centennial State," Hickenlooper said. "There is a stronger connection to communities than I think you will find anywhere else in the country."

"This is not about removing dollars from our pockets, it is about removing members of our families," Cadman said.

Local political scrums evaporated, too, as Colorado Springs City Council President Keith King and Mayor Steve Bach dropped their ongoing power struggle to fight for the post.

"We stand here united today," King said, drawing a few guffaws from the crowd.

In from the Pentagon, Army Brig. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr. listened impassively to hours of speeches from politicians, teachers, bureaucrats, businessmen, generals, veterans and well-wishers. Cloutier is assigned to bring feedback from Colorado back to Washington.

Fort Carson boss Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera explained Tuesday's lack of feedback from Pentagon leadership.

"Your input is important," he told the audience that overflowed from a 300-seat auditorium. "We are truly in the listening mode tonight."

The Army is doing a lot of listening these days. Looking to cut its budget by $100 billion over the next decade, the Army will shave as many as 70,000 soldiers from its ranks. In a move that some insiders have called a political play for cash, the service has threatened massive cuts - up to 16,000 soldiers - at 30 bases nationwide.

"This is listening session No. 14," LaCamera said. "The Army has 16 to go."

The Army said it will examine several factors in picking which installations get cut. Just one - "well-being" - is tied to community support. To highlight that well-being, Colorado Springs and Pueblo officials put aside their stormwater differences to praise the post and highlight local services for troops.

Secretary of State Wayne Williams highlighted more than $180 million in road projects that local voters backed to support Army commuters.

"That's the type of commitment our state has," he said.

A few detractors stepped up to the microphone to challenge the Army.

"If there is a troop reduction at Fort Carson, that might protect the land," Trinidad resident Doug Holdread said.

But the handful of supporters of the proposed cuts were overwhelmed by the legions of Fort Carson boosters.

"We're very protective of Fort Carson," El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey said.

The Fort Carson show of support drew fewer than some meetings at other bases, including a gathering at Fort Campbell, Ky., that brought in 2,000 people.

It also brought fewer protesters than some other meetings, including a recent gathering in Honolulu that sometimes devolved into a debate on the Army's environmental impact in Hawaii.

Fort Carson is estimated to have a $2.2 billion impact on the state economy, and with five military bases, the Pikes Peak region owes 50 cents of every payroll dollar to the Pentagon, according to a study by the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

The alliance worked to stage the outpouring of support, urging locals to wear green and to pack the gathering with boosters. The Fort Carson praise extended well outside Centennial Hall.

Dozens of businesses in Colorado Springs had their workers wear green Tuesday to show allegiance with the post. The Keep Carson Strong Facebook page doubled its followers overnight, tallying nearly 1,200 by the time the meeting began. On Twitter, hundreds of Tweets included #KeepCarson Strong, which was trending before the meeting began.

Cloutier gave no indication of how the Army views Fort Carson but said it will know how Colorado feels about the post.

"I promise you this will go back to Army leaders," he said. "Your voices have been heard."

Of all the support, though, Colorado's Army-inspired political détente may have the deepest impact, said Jay Lindell, a retired Air Force two-star general and the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade's military lobbyist.

"We showed that when it comes to defense issues, there are no divisions," Lindell said.

Read the Gazette's story here

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