Many issues that made headlines in 2013 will continue to impact Fort Hood and the Army in the coming year.
III Corps Return
Fort Hood’s highest headquarters deployed to Afghanistan in April and its return is expected in the coming months. After serving as the headquarters for International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Kabul, more than 560 soldiers will be back at Fort Hood, including Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Mark Milley.
Milley arrived just a couple of months before leading the Phantom Corps in Afghanistan, and has said in interviews he is looking forward to returning to the Great Place.
Deployments to Afghanistan
About 2,400 Fort Hood soldiers are expected to leave this spring for Afghanistan, even as the war is expected to come to a close at the end of the year.
The 3rd Cavalry Regiment, which has spent its longest time in garrison since 9/11, will send about 2,050 soldiers downrange. This will be the regiment’s first time out as a light infantry unit and its first time in Afghanistan. The Brave Rifles last returned from a year in Iraq in 2011.
Meanwhile, 1st Cavalry Division headquarters, will send 350 soldiers to Afghanistan for a second time. The First Team last returned from the country in the summer of 2012.
“The soldiers of the division are committed to mission readiness and ensuring that the right skills and capabilities are in place to effectively accomplish assigned missions in the important work ahead,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi in a statement.
The Army is continuing to downsize from 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers. Part of the downsizing includes reducing the number of brigade combat teams and adjusting units around the changes. Fort Hood bid farewell to 1st Cav’s 4th Brigade Combat Team at the end of last year. Three of its battalions moved to the other three brigades, while each brigade’s special troops battalion transitions to an engineer battalion.
While some units have made the switch, others, such as 2nd Brigade, won’t until after returning from its Afghanistan deployment. Not only does the transition require reorganizing soldiers, but also equipment.
The Army’s regional alignment strategy pairs units with various combatant commander’s across the globe.
Officials describe the concept as a response to the increasing complexity of the global security environment that ensures responsiveness, consistent availability and a higher level of training and expertise.
The alignments are made for one calendar year and began this month. First Cav is divided among three areas of operation: the division headquarters is aligned with U.S. Central Command in the Middle East and will deploy there this spring, 1st Brigade Combat Team supports U.S. European Command and 3rd Brigade linked up with U.S. Pacific Command and will send a battalion to Korea for nine months.
Darnall begins move to new site
After more than three years of construction, the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center Replacement Hospital is nearing the time where soldiers and physicians can begin moving in.
Once the building is sealed and the final systems are installed, equipment and furniture will be moved into the space in the coming year, followed by real-time staff training for more than 300 employees and volunteers this year.
Training is expected to begin six months prior to the opening of the hospital, which is still on target for 2015.
More troops at home
With only about 6,000 troopers deployed, Fort Hood is seeing higher numbers of soldiers at home than it has in 12 years.
Army Times reported this will mean more soldiers taking over jobs civilians held during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Soldiers can already be seen manning Fort Hood gates, and will also be taking over some previously contracted work in dining facilities.
Aside from work, being home more will also allow soldiers to take advantage of some of the services on post, such as mental health, family counseling and services and fitness facilities.
Civilian reduction in force
Fort Hood’s Garrison Command will cut 198 of its 1,237 civilian employees come June. Despite other vacancies, these positions were marked as unauthorized. About 84 percent of those jobs are in the Directorate of Emergency Services.
Overall, 2013 was a tough year for Defense Department civilian employees and its still unclear how 2014 will be.
With sequestration cuts reduced, but still active, there is a chance of more furloughs or changes to civilian-provided services for soldiers and family members.
UAS flights continue
Fort Hood has always been quietly at the forefront of flying unmanned aircraft. Last year, construction was completed at West Fort Hood on a Gray Eagle hangar, and the first daytime flight of the aircraft was completed.
“Unmanned aircraft systems are important to our unit and the Army as well, and we’ve got some very sharp people flying and maintaining them,” said Capt. Rusty Palmore, commander of Fox Company, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, a Gray Eagle company activated and trained for deployment to Afghanistan at Fort Hood.
“The bottom line is we are highly trained, capable and can support any mission that we get.”
At the end of 2013, the Army announced Fort Hood will be one of five sites used to draft Federal Aviation Administration regulations on flying unmanned aircraft alongside manned aircraft.
Tuition Assistance changes
New regulations hit the Army Tuition Assistance Program this year. Restrictions tightened, capping soldiers’ tuition assistance at 16 semester hours per fiscal year. In addition, soldiers cannot begin to use the assistance until one year of service has passed following completion of AIT, OCS or BOLC. The Army is now requiring 10 years of service to pursue post-baccalaureate degrees if tuition assistance was used for a bachelor’s degree, and is restricting soldiers from receiving tuition assistance toward a second degree at the same level, along with tighter eligibility requirements.
The new restrictions follow a “very comprehensive review of the program,” said Brig. Gen. David K. MacEwen, adjutant general of the Army, Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Ky.
“We found it had gotten a little off track from its original intent, which was to provide for soldiers a part-time, off-duty way to continue their education. So we capped it.”
In 2013, the program saw several suspensions due to sequestration and the government shutdown, though it was reinstated each time.
Women in combat
Women in combat remains a hot-button issue moving into 2014. The previous year saw artillery units open positions to women. At Fort Hood, units with brigade combat teams saw more women in headquarters units.
“Most soldiers tell you they think certain women earned the right in the last 12 years to serve in any kind of unit in the Army, but we must maintain standards,” said Gen. Robert W. Cone, commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
In November, Pvt. Anika Degraff reported to 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Fires Brigade as one of three women newly able to serve as a fire direction specialist in the field artillery branch.
“I don’t see us as any different than our male counterparts,” Degraff said. “In my mind, we put on the same uniform. You have to think past the male-female thing.”