U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, visited Fort Hood on Thursday to examine renovations being made to the 1st Cavalry Division headquarters building and several barracks.
Carter represents Congressional District 31, which includes Fort Hood, and was heavily involved in securing the funding to make the renovations.
“This is the warfighting post of America and these folks have been deployed more than anyone else in the world,” Carter said. “We want to make sure when they come back, they come back to a good working environment and to a good living environment.”
Carter said the project began with a 2015 letter he wrote with several colleagues to the secretary of the Army detailing some of the issues Fort Hood was having and where to obtain funding.
“We pointed out where available funds might be and encouraged at that time Secretary (John) McHugh to get involved and get it done,” Carter said. “We were able to get this money to renovate ‘First Cav.’”
Carter said the reason he does anything regarding the Army wasn’t just about renovating dilapidated buildings on the Army post.
“The real reason that I do anything that I do with the Army, is the reason all of us should be concerned about the Army; these are men and women who are willing to go in harm’s way so that we can stand out here in beautiful Killeen and look at this gorgeous weather and have free press and freedom to speak openly,” Carter said. “They deserve the best.”
Carter said the 1st Cavalry Division headquarters building was built in 1983 and was the oldest division headquarters building in the Army. The building has been under renovation for the last two years by Temple-based MW Builders, at a cost of $49.8 million. An additional $10 million to $15 million will be spent on modern furniture and security upgrades. Carter said the budget and timeline were on course.
“I’m happy — I think the timelines are looking really good, everybody’s on time and on budget, you can’t ask for more than that,” Carter said.“I think a lot of soldiers will come back from deployment and be in a lot better place to live.”
Carter said the building will be ready by this summer for the division to partially move back in, but security upgrades and furniture would come later.
“They’re going to get partially in, the building will be ready by summer, but the security upgrades and furniture are three other contracts that don’t even start until the building is occupiable,” Carter said. “So, it will probably be occupiable this time next year.”
Division public affairs officer Maj. Paul Oliver said the division building renovation was on track for a Fall of 2018 completion and a Spring of 2019 move in after the equipment, furnishings and accreditations completed.
“We are approximately 75 percent finished with the development,” Oliver said.
The division headquarters is currently operating out of temporary buildings. Carter said the division had no issues conducting operations in the temporary facilities.
“They can function anywhere if they can function in Afghanistan or wherever they are,” Carter said. “They aren’t these temporary buildings they put outside of schools; they’re like 40 or 50 thousand dollars.”
Carter also addressed how the government shutdown could affect future barracks and motor pool renovations on the Army post, and how a lack of an appropriations bill impacts soldiers and their families.
“The soldier is fighting a war, back home mom and the children are fighting the same everyday problems every one of us have — food on the table, rent paid, car payment paid — and when you talk about shutting down the government, you’re telling those people you are going to have a major delay on your paycheck or no check at all,” Carter said. “Tell them we’re going to get their money, we’re doing everything to get an appropriations bill for defense out before the next shutdown.”
Carter also said he signed a letter giving up his paycheck until the shutdown was over.
The recent partial government shutdown threatened the paychecks of government employees to include military members. President Donald Trump signed a three-week continuing resolution on Jan. 22, which ensured payments would go out. A continuing resolution only funds for pre-existing appropriations at the same amounts of the previous fiscal year.
“The continuing resolution is an abomination, I am totally opposed to CR,” Carter said.
Carter said in this year’s budget he wrote in additional barracks and motor pool repairs for Fort Hood, but if Congress does not pass an appropriations bill and passes a continuing resolution, those funds won’t be available.
“I am confident that we aren’t going to CR it now, whether the powers that be that are fighting for the illegal immigrants are going to shut down the government again, I don’t know,” Carter said. “I didn’t understand their strategy in the first place and I still don’t understand it.”
Carter said as chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee, he knows there are plans out there that will solve the problem without crashing the government.
Carter said the motor pools were so outdated that soldiers couldn’t properly work on their equipment in them.
“You can’t drive an Abrams tank into them,” Carter said. “If you want to work on our current tanks, you have to go outside and get equipment you’re supposed to use in the field to lift the turret and in a good motor pool you have a winch to pick it up.”
Carter said the old motor pools needed to be demolished and new ones built.
“If a soldier’s equipment is not ready, its dangerous in war for that soldier,” Carter said. “We’ve got to give them everything and it has to be working right.”
Carter said two critical issues for the new budget he will be proposing funding for were individual workspace and living space for the soldier.
“There’s more to do, a lot more, but you’ve got to pound it out one appropriation bill at a time,” Carter said.