By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
Fort Hood took steps this week to solidify its rating as the Armys No. 1 post for future capability, specifically from the air.
While officials declined to confirm plans to increase Air Force activity, the post appeared to be positioning itself in a similar fashion to other military installations that have Air Force aviation assets.
Fort Hood officials told a meeting of landowners Wednesday that while there were no plans to increase the Air Force presence at Fort Hood, they were asking surrounding counties to accept a proposal granting an Army Compatible Use Buffer, or easement, that includes parts of Bell, Coryell, Bosque, Hamilton, McLennan and Lampasas counties.
The 2.5 million-acre region is more than twice the size of Rhode Island.
Maj. Gen. James E. Simmons, the posts deputy commander, told about 300 residents at the meeting in Gatesville that the Army wants voluntary land-use agreements so development will not occur near Fort Hoods boundaries.
The buffer will provide for full use of the posts training capabilities, said Lt. Col. James Hutton, III Corps spokesman, who said integrating Air Force units is not being considered at this time.
Our goal with (the buffer) is to ensure that we are able to fully use the land we have for training within our existing boundaries, Hutton stated Thursday in an e-mail. There is no plan that incorporates acquisition. In fact, a central element to (the buffer) is that it prohibits acquisition. Landowners who choose to participate in the program will do so voluntarily.
An identical process was used last year to establish a buffer zone around Luke Air Force Base, Calif., to accommodate fighter jet training.
The project, completed at a cost of $27.3 million, included government property appraisals that could be challenged by a landowners appraisal, according to an Army Web site about the Luke Air Force Base buffer. Landowners were able to negotiate with the government before an agreement and transfer of title took place.
Maximizing the posts ground training capabilities was cited as the reason for the buffer. However, the Army noted in a February 2004 strategy report that joint training is required for success on a joint battlefield.
Army forces seldom operate unilaterally, the report stated.
Reiterating that idea, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said the Pentagon promotes joint training.
The Department of Defense is promoting jointness among its facilities nationwide, Gretchen Hamel said.
Hamel said Carter is not aware of any plans to increase Air Force activity at Fort Hood, but if it were to come in, it would enhance and protect Fort Hood.
The Air Force would not acknowledge the existence of any such plans.
We are not aware of any Air Force assets or missions moving to Fort Hood, said Lt. Col. Frank Smolinsky, the Air Force future planning spokesman.
While there remains no commitment to expand Air Force activities at Fort Hood, Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, post and III Corps commander, and other key leaders have indicated their desire to see the post capable of accommodating aircraft from the service.
In mid-July, Metz secured an agreement from the Killeen City Council to halt development along State Highway 201, south of Stan Schlueter Loop. The agreement, voted upon by the City Council on July 12, halted residential development in that area to allow the possibility of a second runway at the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport. The approval was made over the objections of area real estate developers.
The way we are going to reorganize, a huge formation would be located at Fort Hood, and the U.S. Air Force would be the carrier to move them, Metz said in July.
Fort Hoods ability to handle joint training has been discussed for some years.
Retired Lt. Gen. Pete Taylor, a former III Corps commander who is now chairman of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, included in his presentation in the leadup to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission Fort Hoods capability to support air power.
Even before a second runway is added at West Fort Hood, the Armys largest post has the capability to handle seven cargo planes at one time, according to materials prepared in October 2004 by the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance for the Army Secretarys chief of staff. Fort Hood was rated by the Army as the best deployment installation in 2003 in part because of the ramp space for heavy cargo planes.
Calls to the advocacy group for comment were not returned Thursday.
The report also showed the ability to handle amphibious Marine Corps training along Belton Lake.
Calls to Marine Corps spokesmen at the Pentagon and at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., regarding the possibility of more Marine training at Fort Hood were not returned Thursday.
The Air Forces fleet of heavy cargo planes includes the militarys largest aircraft, the C-5 Galaxy, which is capable of moving nearly everything the Army owns, including the 74-ton mobile scissors bridge; the C-17 Globemaster III, which is proving its worth in the Middle East as a flexible, rapid-response aircraft; and the C-130 Hercules, a smaller, propeller-driven aircraft with a 36,000-pound payload.
The C-17s soon will be landing at Fort Hood more frequently. An Air Force certification team is scheduled next week to approve an unimproved landing strip built by 13th Corps Support Command engineers and a Marine Reserve detachment from Fort Worth. The strip, the only one of its kind large enough for C-17s in the country, was dedicated in late September. If the strip is certified, training is expected to begin in December.
Requests to the III Corps public affairs office and other military agencies for information about how much the post relies on the Air Force for heavy cargo missions were not returned Thursday. Neither were requests about how much joint-use traffic the post processes.
Contact Emily Baker at email@example.com