Editor's note: This is the last of six articles written by business and community leaders who participated in the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation's "Colorado Experience" excursion to Colorado Springs in late April.
I was fortunate to be part of a delegation through the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation's Colorado Experience program to explore Colorado Springs as an economic engine for our great state.
A key part of the program was an excursion to one of the top military facilities that call the Colorado Springs home. As CEO of the American Red Cross Mile High Chapter, this piece was particularly of interest to me, especially since the American Red Cross has deep roots in service to the armed forces.
A native of Pueblo, I have never had the opportunity to visit and experience Fort Carson. Driving onto the base, I was immediately struck by the sense of community. Absent the fence and the gated entrance we entered through, we could have been pulling into city suburb. There were homes, an elementary school and a church/chapel.
As we continued through the streets to the location for our briefing, we observed businesses, a movie theater, local banks and stores. But a quick glimpse of soldiers training in a field, helicopters and Humvees made no mistake that we were on 175,000 training acres focused on ensuring America's sons and daughters were prepared for combat.
Our day started with a briefing by the Garrison Commander of the base, Col. Robert McLoughlin. Col. McLoughlin briefed us on the size and scale of the base, on the key units housed at Fort Carson, readiness training and deployments from the base. He acknowledged that 10 years of war have been taxing on U.S. soldiers and their families and that it was his responsibility to take care of those soldiers and their families.
I was quite surprised by his articulation that, as garrison commander, he was strongly aware that Fort Carson's role is to train soldiers for combat, but there is significant importance placed on being a good neighbor. Fort Carson views itself as a "small town next to a city." I was surprised by the emphasis by the colonel on being a good neighbor to, and part of, the Colorado Springs community.
And indeed they are. With more than 70 percent of Fort Carson soldiers and their families living off base in Colorado Springs, they are integrated into the life and economics of this beautiful city nestled against the majestic mountains. And the impact keeps growing as a new aviation brigade is coming to Fort Carson that will generate $700 million in new construction and bring in 2,700 soldiers and 4,000 family members. This brigade alone will likely create an additional 4,000 jobs in the Colorado Springs market, and the ripple effect of that growth will likely reach into the Denver metro area.
After our briefing, we were sent off to our training exercises. My group began with the Convoy Skills Trainer, a room with three simulated Humvees inside 360 degrees of screens. I was handed my M4 rifle, and my convoy was placed in a simulated situation of being attacked. The noise of weapon fire and Humvees filled the room, and I found my heart racing as I shot at (and occasionally hit) the enemy that was attacking. The whole experience gave me a sense of the intensity of battle - similar to a video game, but feeling all the more real considering the accuracy of the weapons we were holding, noise and 360-degree nature of the assault.
Following this experience we proceeded to the Close Combat Tactical Trainer. Our "platoon" was dispersed into units of five in smaller experiential rooms with a single Humvee, inside a smaller scale, 360-degree screened room. Our facilitator turned on the "action" and our platoon was under attack. I manned the large rifle mounted on top of the Humvee, targeting trucks, transportation units and larger scale targets. I was also gunning for the enemy, and the realism of the sounds, smells and targets definitely raised my heart rate. I realized quickly that you simply can't train for targeting living targets in combat without the technology that is utilized by our military. They are indeed extraordinarily well trained.
I asked our trainer if this simulator actually helps a solider deal with the thought of killing another human in combat. He told me that in Vietnam, our soldiers conducted target practice with paper targets with a black silhouette; accordingly, we had many terrific marksmen. However, when they got on the lines and were looking down the barrel of their rifle at the face of another human they froze. This resulted in a huge loss of U.S. servicemen. Now, with the technology, their brains are used to looking down the barrel and seeing what they will see in combat.
I had no idea the vastness of the base, nor the economic driver that it is. Of course, I always knew that the military presence in Colorado Springs was a key economic driver, especially as my family owned a motorcycle dealership in Pueblo, and many young men (mostly) serving our country on bases in Colorado Springs were a good portion of our business. But I never really understood the vastness of the base, or that the military was such big business. I have a new sense of appreciation for the military as part of our economic success in Colorado.
Despite the politics of war, the trip made me appreciate and realize quickly that we have one of the most prepared military in the world, and that preparedness training is a significant business for our great state.