By Meghan Williams
Garrison Public Affairs Office
When sequestration hit Fort Carson March 1, one of its immediate effects was an 81.7-percent reduction in the installation’s Integrated Training Area Management funding, slashing $1.81 million allotted for land rehabilitation and maintenance.
Fort Carson was left with no money to re-seed Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site or repair roughly 1,200 PCMS acres damaged during a training exercise earlier this year.
Fort Carson pursued other funding avenues and, in May, secured $1.3 million to fund a contract re-seeding PCMS. Additionally, Fort Carson purchased two pieces of re-seeding equipment so the installation can independently repair any future damages.
“Being good stewards of the land is essential for our ability to train our nation’s Soldiers, today and into the future. If we consume our resources and don’t manage them in a practical way, we will lose the ability to use them,” said Dan
Benford, Fort Carson director of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.
While Fort Carson already planned to re-vegetate land at PCMS, routine maneuver damages resulting from a full-scale brigade training exercise executed by the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, amplified the need for repairs, Benford said. The exercise lasted Feb. 24 through March 14 and trained 3,100 Soldiers with 1,038 vehicles, including Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees.
2nd ABCT conducted the exercise to prepare for future deployments. PCMS’ vast training acreage and natural environment provide realistic, live training that helps Soldiers succeed and survive in combat.
The damages, which occurred on 1.06 percent of the total 113,000 acres 2ABCT used for the exercise, were in part due to inclement weather.
A snowstorm hit the area Feb. 23, the day before the training began, but five days after Soldiers and equipment began arriving at PCMS.
According to Benford, Fort Carson Regulation 350-4 requires brigade commanders to consult with PCMS subject matter experts before training in inclement weather. Col. Omar Jones IV, 2nd ABCT commander, talked with both the environmental lead and range control at PCMS before continuing the training.
Jones’ decision was based on several factors, including an assessment of potential environmental impact, the cost of rescheduling the training and the need for Soldiers to train in all types of weather conditions.
“The first time (Soldiers are) conducting operations in a snowstorm shouldn’t be in combat,” said Benford, explaining that the Army gains a significant technological advantage during adverse weather conditions. “That’s when we are most likely to attack our enemies and exploit their weaknesses. We can see, shoot and destroy them in inclement weather when they can’t even see who’s doing it.”
The snowstorm presented an invaluable opportunity to train 2nd ABCT Soldiers in an otherwise difficult-to-simulate environment.
Through the Army’s ITAM program, Fort Carson assessed that maneuver damage, defined as ruts six to eight inches deep, had occurred on about 1,200 acres. 2nd ABCT Soldiers repaired roughly 200 acres themselves, filling in the ruts manually, with rakes and with vehicle-pulled drags.
Following the assessment, Fort Carson immediately filed a Commander’s Critical Information report to Installation Management Command, identifying the need for land rehabilitation based on damage caused by the significant, prolonged drought in Southern
Colorado and the maneuver damages, Benford said.
In early May, IMCOM awarded Fort Carson $1.3 million to replace the lost ITAM funding and complete the much-needed land rehabilitation.
Fort Carson will use the grant to re-seed PCMS land identified as at-risk. Re-seeding and re-vegetating the land will prevent bare spots from forming and help the post meet regulatory requirements of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act that dictates no fugitive dust and stormwater sediment may leave PCMS. Officials estimate the repairs will be completed by late summer or early fall.
Looking to the future, Fort Carson will continue using proven methods to decrease maneuver damage. These include maintaining Seibert stakes to mark all cultural and historic sites at PCMS, with additional signage and fencing around more significant sites, Benford said.
A shared initiative between DPW Environmental and DPTMS Training that educates Soldiers slated for training about PCMS cultural resources has also proved successful.
“That training is a prevention effort to ensure that every Soldier gets the information to tread lightly as can be,” said Benford. The program not only teaches Soldiers why the cultural resources are important, but how they are marked and how best to avoid them.
Additionally, Fort Carson will continue to assign a trained maneuver damage control officer within each unit to emphasize the importance of protecting cultural sites and preserving PCMS’ natural environment, Benford said.