By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
Rep. John Carter can't praise Lt. Gen. (promotable) Raymond T. Odierno enough, the congressman said on Thursday.
Odierno, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, was selected to replace Gen. David Petraeus this summer as the top commander in Iraq. Odierno has the right temperament and intelligence to continue America's effort in Iraq, Carter said, and he'll carry on with Petraeus' successes. Continuing with that progress is a sentiment Odierno echoed in May when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"I would not take this job if I didn't think that we could be successful," Odierno said to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "Senator, I believe that we have made significant progress, specifically over the last 18 months or so, and I do believe that we are headed in the right direction. I will not say that we are out of the woods yet, but I would say that we are clearly headed in the right direction."
Odierno has spent about 31 months in Iraq between two deployments, the first as commander of the 4th Infantry Division and Multinational Division-Baghdad, and most recently as commander of III Corps and Multinational Corps-Iraq. He returned to Fort Hood with III Corps Headquarters in mid-February and his new job will send him back to Iraq.
It was evident during the confirmation hearings in May that senators respect Odierno, Carter said.
"He's a real asset to our military," he added.
Though Carter doesn't know Odierno's replacement, Maj. Gen. (promotable) Rick Lynch, he said Lynch is a capable man and has no worries about the transition of leadership between the two. The general officer corps is exceptional, Carter said, and has only seen seamless changes of command since he has been in office.
Lynch commands the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga. He returned in June from leading the division to Iraq, his third deployment. Lynch has served multiple tours at Fort Hood, including several company commands, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment from May 1993 to May 1995; commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team from April 1997 to April 1999; and the 4th Infantry's assistant division commander for support for several years, leaving in July 2002.
Carter on Fort Hood
The congressman said that Fort Hood is the most important military post in the entire world, especially when it comes to the war. Fort Hood has consistently "put more people in this fight" than any other post, he said.
Odierno agreed in May when he said that no installation has deployed more soldiers than Fort Hood.
According to statistics released in May, one of every 10 active-duty soldiers in the U.S. Army is at Fort Hood. In 2004, 44,000 soldiers were assigned to Fort Hood, according to information from the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance. That population now sits at about 53,000 soldiers, and officials say the post is capable of handling more.
Carter said that Fort Bragg, N.C., is the only other post that comes close to contributing as much to the war effort as Fort Hood.
Because of the Central Texas post's importance, Carter stressed several projects that were included in the 2009 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill. That bill included:
$32 million to construct maintenance and operations facilities for a clearance company and military police unit at Fort Hood to "support the troop increase requested by the Secretary of Defense" – part of the Army's Grow the Force initiative.
$10.8 million for a Joint Air Ground Center to support the administrative, training, vehicle and equipment maintenance and storage requirements for the 3rd Air Support Operations Group and the 9th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Hood.
$17.5 million for the construction of a standard design chapel facility at Fort Hood. "This facility will help meet religious needs of the nearly 50,000 soldiers stationed at Fort Hood while also providing counseling services, child care and family support services for soldiers and their families," according to information from Carter's office;
$43.1 billion for veterans benefits, including disability and retirement.
$40.7 billion for veterans' health care, including medical services, medical support and compliance, medical facilities and medical and prosthetic research.
$923.3 million for "major construction" in the VA system, including $9 million for a spinal cord injury center in Dallas.
Funds will help increase Fort Hood's airlift capacity and health care, Carter added. Injured soldiers should not have to make what can be a difficult drive to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, he said, when they can get care at Fort Hood.
Carter said he doubted Congress would vote on the bill before the November elections.
Carter on military families
Feeling the pressure of deployments has been the most widely discussed topic in conversations with soldiers and their family members in the past several months, Carter said. There is a clear message: It is getting hard.
Carter said that he doesn't have a solution for those who ask if there is any relief in sight. It's something an individual can't solve, he said, but "we as a nation" are trying.
"We as a people solve the problem of war," Carter said.
He doesn't have fixes for families who are feeling the burdens of war, but tells them that he is sorry their loved ones are experiencing hardships and thanks soldiers for their service. If everybody gave their service like soldiers do, "we'd be better off," he said.
"None of us are sacrificing what our soldiers are," Carter said.
What Congress is offering them is help in areas like education and employment. In a recently passed supplement to the G.I. Bill, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans can receive more tuition and housing money, and in a little more than a year, recipients can transfer their benefits to their spouses and children.
The bill was designed in a post-World War II era when it was recognized that returning troops needed education. Soldiers today are fairly well educated, Carter said, and their concern is their children.
The supplement, estimated to cost about $63 billion, "is gonna be expensive," Carter said, but it's something "we need to give to soldiers."
Spouses also will see more aid coming soon with the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act. The bill is an amendment to the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act and allows spouses who move out of state, because of orders, with their servicemembers to claim the same state of domicile as their soldier, sailor, Marine or airman, according to information from Carter's office.
If the bill passes, which Carter expected it will with no problem, it would be easier for military spouses to do things like get automobile insurance, vote and get a driver's license in their new states. The bill has plenty of support from both sides, Carter said.
Carter on the Fort Hood community
The Fort Hood community includes more than 70,000 family members, 98 percent of whom live within 10 miles of Fort Hood, Odierno said in May. Carter said the quality-of-life efforts of cities like Killeen, Copperas Cove and Harker Heights have a lot to do with making Fort Hood a desirable place to be stationed.
About 300,000 military retirees live within 25 miles of Fort Hood, Odierno said in May, and Carter expects that to grow.
The congressman said he doubts the federal government is going to touch Fort Hood. Base Realignment and Closure "plays around with us," he said, but doesn't expect the post to decrease in population or significance.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or (254) 501-7547.