1CD Air Cav BDE Change of Command

Troops stand in formation before the start of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade change of command Thursday, August 2, 2018, at Cooper Field in Fort Hood, Texas. (Jason Hoekema|Herald)

Fort Hood has had a rather stable population over the last three years, averaging between 36,000 and 37,000 active duty troops assigned with roughly 50,000 family members stationed with them.

The makeup of that population affects the surrounding communities and particularly the Killeen school district, which is trying to plan for growth and has relied heavily on federal monetary aid — known as impact aid — for educating military dependants.

The Killeen Independent School District is estimating its growth as it considers seeking another taxpayer-funded bond for new schools and amenities.

KISD Superintendent John Craft has said that the district is estimating close to 5,000 new students (4,759) over the next 10 years that would put the district’s total population over 50,000 students. The growth rate is estimated to be 1% per year over those 10 years, according to Craft.

The proportion of Fort Hood connected students is expected to decline as the population of non-military dependants grows.

If the military-connected percentage goes under 35% of the school population, that could affect the amount of federal impact aid KISD receives, Craft has said.

The number of troops on Fort Hood — and the number of family members they have with them — can alter not only the amount of impact aid received, but affect population estimates for the number of schools needed.

FORT HOOD OUTLOOK

So, what is expected of the Fort Hood population?

According to U.S. Army spokesman Matt Leonard, the Army can only speculate about it, as any future increases in staffing would be mandated — and funded — by Congress. The Army has just under 484,000 active-duty soldiers as of Sept. 30, 2019.

Under the current 2018 National Defense Strategy, the Army is expected to grow by approximately 1,500 soldiers a year until it reaches 492,000, Leonard said. Those soldiers would be spread across the Army and not necessarily have a large impact on the population of Fort Hood.

If Congress deems it necessary to substantially increase the number of troops in the future, however, that could change, said retired Army Col. Keith Sledd, executive director of the Killeen-based Heart of Texas Defense Alliance.

“Fort Hood’s military population has historically increased and decreased along with the Army’s overall military population,” Sledd said. “I expect this historical trend to continue with future Army force structure changes.”

All things considered, Fort Hood’s future is exceptional, Sledd said.

“Fort Hood’s population numbers have remained steady for the last several years at 36,000 plus servicemembers and 49,000 plus family members. At this point, the force structure is expected to remain stable for the foreseeable future,” he said.

That is a drop from the 47,000 troops stationed at Fort Hood in May 2010. But after the United States began to withdraw troops from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army numbers began to decline.

In 2014, there were about 41,500 troops stationed at Fort Hood, and a year later the number was down to 39,400.

“Today’s Fort Hood is different than it was in the ’70s, ’80s or the ’90s but different is not bad. Fort Hood and the force structure on the installation will continue to change as the Army modernizes and new capabilities are fielded to operate in a Multi-Domain operational environment which ensures our soldiers are best equipped to deploy, fight and win when our nation calls.”

Fort Hood does, however, have the ability to accept additional force structure if the opportunity presents itself, Sledd said.

“Fort Hood is centrally located in the U.S. with a strategic airfield, state of the art rail facility, easy access to Texas seaports and nearly equidistant access to strategic East Coast and West Coast seaports enabling deployment no matter the situation,” he said.

If it does become necessary to grow the Army extensively, the U.S. Congressmen who represent Fort Hood as part of their districts said they are prepared to ensure the “Great Place” has everything it needs.

“As the world changes, the need to have forces in different locations will change. Fort Hood is a strategic location for national defense, and the soldiers and units stationed here should be confident in the stability of the Great Place,” said U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock. “Proof of Fort Hood’s status is the standing up of an SFAB (Security Force Assistance Brigade) here last year.”

Fort Hood is also a good location for future growth due to the deployment platforms available at the installation, Carter said.

“The modernization of the facilities and training ranges at Fort Hood is fundamental to the nation’s security and to the men and women in uniform,” he said.

In order to do that, however, first, passing a National Defense Authorization Act on time every year to fund equipment, training and resources is essential, said U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin.

“Second is providing long term (Department of Defense) budget predictability across the (Future Years Defense Program) to ensure that programs can start on time and continue on schedule and on budget,” said Williams.

Failing to pass an NDAA which adequately fulfills DoD’s requirements as determined by the secretary of defense can stall projects and withhold necessary funding at Fort Hood, he said.

Despite the lack of current reliable funding, Fort Hood still offers many qualities which would make it attractive for further growth in the future as needed, said Sledd.

“Fort Hood offers not only the strategic location and deployment capabilities mentioned earlier — it also offers outstanding training resources for units, leaders and soldiers,” he said. “Fort Hood enjoys unparalleled support from the Central Texas communities around the base where one in three people are a servicemember, retiree or a family member.’

The cost of living and quality of life in the Central Texas communities surrounding Fort Hood are also an attractive feature, Sledd said. The area offers excellent educational opportunities for troops and their families through one of the top three Early College High School programs in the state, Central Texas College and Texas A&M-Central Texas.

“Ample recreation opportunities are available locally and regionally, ranging from outdoor activities to live theater and symphonies,” he said. “All of these factors contribute to Fort Hood’s military value and its appeal as an enduring installation.”

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

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