On the evening of April 15, 2013, I pulled into the packed parking lot of the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
A few other area residents were still trickling into the facility. Inside, the front hallway had more people: mainly civilians intertwined with the occasional solider in ACUs.
I took a peek into the main ballroom where the event was being held. There were about 500 seats, all taken. Along the walls, other people stood. Photographers took photos. TV news crews were there, too.
What was all the fuss about?
It was an Army listening session.
More specifically, it was an opportunity for the Army to “listen” to the community —giving Killeen a chance to make its case as to why Fort Hood needs to stay as big as possible. And more to the point: why this area is so great for soldiers.
Area leaders pointed out before the standing-room-only crowd of 500 that Killeen offers a plethora of services the Army needs.
Community experts talked about the availability of medical services, schools that cater to military families, affordable housing, outdoor recreation and other opportunities.
Killeen does have a lot of things going for it, other than just being an Army-friendly city: High schools broadcast graduations via teleconference to deployed parents; a variety of public hospitals are here, including a VA hospital and a soon-to-open $500 million Army hospital on post; several area highway projects are ongoing, promising to make the commute to and around Fort Hood easier; the community caters to provide jobs and other opportunities to veterans and Army spouses; and the cost of living is low.
And, as then-Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin pointed out, the city is dedicated to ensuring an E-4 can buy a house in Killeen.
“Bottom-line: We have everything you need right here — in the community,” Dr. Don Daniels, the chief medical officer at Killeen’s Metroplex Hospital, said to the crowd in 2013.
As experts pointed out during the listening session, Killeen doesn’t just talk the talk; it walks the walk.
The time for talking and walking ... and listening has come again. As the Army continues to downsize, perhaps even to pre-World War II levels of about 420,000 troops, a new round of listening sessions is being held in military communities around the nation.
In Killeen, the session will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Killeen Civic & Conference Center. The public, soldiers and their families are all welcome to attend.
Hopefully, there will be few more seats available than two years ago. I expect another packed house and a carefully planned presentation on how the Killeen area serves Fort Hood and the Army so well.
The future of Fort Hood — and Killeen — may depend on it.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the metro editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.