By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
Fresh from its annual trip to Washington, D.C., the Central Texas-Fort Hood Chapter of the Association of the United States Army kicked off a new administrative season with a meeting at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
Hundreds of local business people, elected officials and retired and active-duty soldiers filled the center's main hall Thursday, proving the chapter is the biggest in the world, as it was deemed during the national association's conference last month. The chapter has more than 10,000 members, including 330 corporate members.
It's not just the chapter's size that makes it special, said Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., III Corps and Fort Hood commander. "I've been in the Army 33 years," he said. "It's the best I've seen."
Not only did the association care for the Fort Hood soldiers who attended the national conference, but it also cares for them on a daily basis at home, said Campbell. "If more people knew what the chapter did day in and day out, they'd appreciate it a lot more."
The benefits of the chapter's work were on display during the meeting, when Automax of Killeen presented a $20,000 check and the Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce donated $8,600.
Chapter president Billy Mills said Automax reserved a portion of its sales over several months for the chapter, in part to benefit the Fort Hood wounded warriors. About $5,000 from the check will go toward soldiers and families during the holidays.
Half of the chamber's donation will benefit Scott & White Healthcare's Military Homefront Services confidential counseling center, and half will help soldiers in need.
Fundraising for soldiers is just part of what the association does, Mills said. Its members also lobby collectively and individually in the nation's capital for the military. In this tight budgeting season, AUSA is fighting to protect soldiers' and military retirees' health care and retirement benefits.
"There are going to be cuts in every area, but we want to make sure we don't take the biggest hits," Mills said. "Soldiers have earned that money."
The evening's featured speaker, Brig. Gen. Joseph DiSalvo, Fort Hood and III Corps deputy commander, updated members on events affecting Fort Hood and the community. By February, more troops will be in garrison than deployed, he said - for the first time in eight years. Just in time, the Texas Legislature has fully funded the $60 million U.S. Highway 190 expansion to alleviate traffic outside the post.
Construction on the new Fort Hood stadium, which it will share with the Killeen Independent School District, and the new Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center is on track, DiSalvo added, and 25 of the 35 1st Cavalry Division barracks being renovated will be completed by January. The funds to finish the remaining 10 already have been approved.
DiSalvo said that Fort Hood community partnerships now number 21 area towns and cities.
"The ties to Central Texas remain strong, and it's got to be that way to raise the bar even higher," he said.
The deputy commander also said that Fort Hood's AUSA chapter is among the most successful he's seen in his career and attributed the achievement to its willingness to reach out to young soldiers. "The help they provide to deployed soldiers and families is really extraordinary," he said.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.