By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, Fort Hood senior commander, addressed Belton area military families Monday night during an event sponsored by the Belton Area Chamber of Commerce.
The town hall-style meeting was designed to expose the community's growing military population with school age children to existing resources and better understand their needs. Grimsley was the event's featured speaker.
"There is no better place to live and serve than Central Texas," he told the crowd of about 60 people. "You love us as if we were your own."
As such, the Army will continue to invest in Fort Hood, he said, starting with $85 million in construction on post this year. That doesn't include the $1 billion medical center on which construction will soon begin. Projects include a 10,000-seat football stadium, new and renovated barracks, a large spiritual center and a proposed Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic.
The Army will continue to invest in surrounding communities, as well, Grimsley said, to serve the 70 percent of Fort Hood's 26,000 families who live in them. A new family outreach center opened in Harker Heights in August, and plans exist for similar centers in Killeen, Copperas Cove and the Belton and Temple area, he said.
Fort Hood will continue to experience ongoing deployments, he added, and Belton's support of military personnel and families is appreciated.
The meeting was the seventh such event in three years, said chamber president and chief executive Stephanie O'Banion. She has seen more and more military families move to Belton over time, she said.
"We have roughly 1,000 military families," she said. "Ten percent of the (Belton Independent School District) are active military students."
The chamber began hosting what it calls "Meet Belton" events several years ago after members received training from the National Military Child Education Coalition, which promotes community awareness and support of military children.
Past outgrowths of the meetings include the introduction of early-morning child care to the community, she said.
Resident Ann Jackson hoped an area military spouses' network would stem from Monday's meeting. She asked the crowd for help in forming one.
"No one knows what it's like to be this isolated and alone than another military spouse," she said. Through such a network, she said, Belton area spouses whose partners are deployed will have someone to call "when the water heater breaks and the garage door won't close at 3 a.m."
Such events are especially important in Belton, said new resident Valerie Venus, because of its distance from Fort Hood.
"This is my first time living away from a military installation," said Venus, adding that she chose to live in Belton due to its excellent schools following her husband's transfer from Fort Bliss. "But," she said, "I've gotten used to it."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.