Monday, December 8, 2014

Army helicopter training meeting draws crowd

Posted By on Mon, Dec 8, 2014 at 10:40 AM

A crowd showed up at the Heritage and Information Center in Cripple Creek. Most protested the Army's idea of using federal land for helicopter training. - COURTESY OF DONNA JOHNSON
  • Courtesy of Donna Johnson
  • A crowd showed up at the Heritage and Information Center in Cripple Creek. Most protested the Army's idea of using federal land for helicopter training.

Last Thursday night, more than 100 people showed up in Cripple Creek to express opinions about the Army's proposal to use more than 40 landing zones on Bureau of Land Management land for High Altitude Mountain Environment Training, or HAMET, for helicopter pilots.

As we've previously reported ("Hard landings," March 19, 2014), Fort Carson has been using the land periodically under a temporary "casual use" agreement but now is looking for a permanent arrangement with the BLM.

This was the second public meeting, which was called after the first, held Oct. 7, drew quite a few folks.

We were unable to attend, but a couple of people we know were on hand and provided reports.

First, Andrea Jones attended from Fremont County. She provided this report in an email:
These notes pertain to the December 4, 2014 public meeting in Cripple Creek, regarding the Army’s proposal to establish a Right of Way agreement with the BLM for 46 helicopter landing zones in Park, Teller, and Fremont counties.

There were at least 130 people present; I didn’t do a headcount. The BLM asked people to sign in, compiling a list of contact phone numbers and email addresses. The meeting was not recorded. Neither the Army nor the BLM assigned an individual to take notes or to keep minutes. I am not aware of any official documentation of the meeting other than those sign-in sheets. No members of the press identified themselves in my hearing. One Teller County commissioner was present, as was a representative from Senator Michael Bennet’s office (who noted that she’d only had 2 days notice about the meeting); other government officials may have been present.

The meeting opened around 4:45 with an apology from Keith Berger, the Field Manager of the Royal Gorge BLM office, saying that the intent was for the meeting to consist of an open house from 4:30 until 5:30, when formal presentations were set to begin. He apologized that the schedule had not been communicated more clearly, since it was clear everyone was expecting presentations to begin at 4:30. I mention this because apologies for poor communication on the part of the BLM was the overriding theme of the evening.

BLM opened the meeting at 5:15 with an emphasis that the Army’s proposal was in the early stages of the review process. While stressing the importance of public input, he noted that comments would not be recorded and encouraged people throughout the evening to submit written comments to the Royal Gorge Field office. Mr. Berger noted that the Army proposal had been received in 2013 and had not been acted on until now because of budget shortfalls. BLM presented an overview of the NEPA review process. Their presentation was an expansion of the slides available on the BLM website (“BLM presentation” under the Public Meeting Documents heading), with additional slides detailing the timeline and review process. That schedule calls for a decision document to be released in Spring 2015. A staffer (neglected to take her name, sorry; first name I believe is Sarah) presented the NEPA information; Mr. Berger responded to questions throughout the evening.

Capt. Pete Matthews from Fort Carson gave the Army presentation, following the slides available on the BLM website (“Fort Carson Presentation”). He opened with an emphasis on the use of Army Helicopter resources in local emergencies such as fires and the Boulder floods.

The meeting was then opened up for questions from the audience. I took notes on the general content of questions and comments and will summarize some of the more cogent ones here. I did not record names.

The first questioner said that the Interior Board of Land Appeals had ruled that Right of Way agreements are not the appropriate instrument for agreements involving military maneuvers and questioned the legality of the Plan of Development and the review process. BLM responded that the guidance they’d received from higher in the organization indicated that the Army’s proposal for a ROW as appropriate.

Other questions about process pertained to Environmental Analysis vs. Environmental Impact Statements (BLM: the current EA could trigger an EIS) and about the timing/structure of appeals (it depends on recommended alternatives).

One gentleman spoke in favor of the proposal, saying he’d be happy to lose a few thousand dollars on his property values if it saved a pilot’s life. Many of the commenters for the rest of the evening emphasized their support of the military or acknowledged the need for pilot training opportunities, before going on to articulate their concerns or objections to the Army’s proposal or the BLM’s handling of events to date.

Many comments emphasized the lack of communication on the part of BLM, to which BLM responded that they issue press releases and then rely on media to spread the word. Landowners in and adjacent to the Mountain Training areas have not been notified individually. I sat next to a couple from the Tallahassee area that was there because I’d sent an email to the Tallahassee Area Community organization the day before. Homeowner’s associations in the affected areas have not been notified (it does not appear that ranchers with BLM grazing leases on affected plots have been notified, either, although this was not discussed specifically at the meeting). The chief of the Four Mile Fire Department said that he’d heard about the meeting and the proposal two days before, by word of mouth; he stated that he’d contacted fellow emergency service organizations in the area and none of them had been notified. He went on to comment that helicopter traffic would cause rubbernecking accidents on the Gold Belt Tour Byway and that counties would be liable for the expenses. Counties would also bear the expense of emergency services in the event of a helicopter crash; Capt. Matthews acknowledged this, saying that once pilots leave Fort Carson airspace, emergency response is the responsibility of local and regional agencies.

Several individuals raised issues pertaining to the Army’s maps, which they said were of poor quality and out of date. Army acknowledged that potential landing zones were identified using maps, not site inspection. One resident had used Google Earth to identify about 40 homes inside the perimeter of various proposed landing zones. BLM has made no site visits and I did not hear them state that site visits would be part of the review.

Numerous people commented on noise impacts, and five or six related incidents in which Army helicopters had buzzed or hovered over their homes under the current Casual Use agreement. These incidents include night flybys and low-flying helicopters in areas far removed from existing landing zones. Army made clear that complaints are/would be handled by their Public Affairs Office. Army provided a handout with Public Affairs contact information, which hints at, but does not provide “proper procedures”; Capt. Matthews indicated that tail numbers of aircraft are part of that procedure. BLM acknowledged that there was a need for monitoring mechanisms and accountability to be incorporated in any recommended action, and encouraged attendees to formally submit their comments on such matters.

While I understand that BLM is relying on public input to identify issues, there was no indication during the meeting that BLM has proactively begun any of their own research, even though the original scoping period expired October 31. When asked why Forest Service was curtailing use of landing sites on FS property, Berger replied, essentially, “We don’t know, but we’ll be asking them.” Berger also indicated that BLM was “just finding out” about other sites in the continental US that the Army uses for HAMET exercises; the Air National Guard station in Eagle County and Fort Bliss were mentioned; my own cursory internet search on “HAMET” and “Army helicopter training” earlier in the week indicates that exercises have also been conducted at Holloman AFB and Fort Drum.

Other comments touched on the fact that helicopters under the current Casual Use agreement have been seen landing on private property and in landing zones that were excluded by the BLM in under that agreement. Property owners with conservation easements on their land are concerned about ongoing preservation of conservation values. One person noted that Park County has airspace regulations and should not be considered unregulated airspace. People raised concerns about helicopter conflicts with private drones and Flight for Life helicopters, liability for accidents, and decreases in property values with associated decreases in tax revenue.

Toward the end of the meeting, Berger indicated that BLM would try to develop a scoping report and post it on the website.

I had several questions of my own, but will write those up and submit them to BLM, as raising issues at the meeting was pointless with regard to getting anything into the record.
A list of BLM personnel who were on hand at the Cripple Creek meeting. - COURTESY OF DONNA JOHNSON
  • Courtesy of Donna Johnson
  • A list of BLM personnel who were on hand at the Cripple Creek meeting.
Lee Alter, with the Tallahassee Area Community, Inc. (TAC), in Fremont County, sent us comments he's submitted to the BLM.

In part, he writes, "While TAC acknowledges the necessity for HAMET, we believe that both the Army and BLM have failed to recognize and appreciate the existence of our rural residential community and the adverse impacts to be reasonably anticipated from the long term low-altitude overflights of military helicopters en route to their various exercise Landing Zones."

He also notes the BLM's "lack of community outreach" and how people accidentally found out about the proposal and the Dec 4. meeting. Read the entire letter here:
TAC_Ltr_to_BLM_re_HAMET.pdf Peace activist Bill Sulzman of Colorado Springs also reported to us on the meeting, saying via email:

The most striking detail was the turnout. The BLM electronic door counter registered 162 by the time we (Donna and I) got there. There was some coming and going. But an informal count came up with a number well above one hundred. By a large margin those who came wanted to express disapproval for the project. Many had heard about it from a front page story in the Pikes Peak Courier.

To quote the opening line: "In a place where elk, and wild turkeys roam, where stunning rock formations and lush hillsides cast a a pastoral setting, helicopters from Fort Carson are disturbing the peace in the Four Mile area."

Fort Carson and BLM staff made the opening presentation with a broad overview, map of the landing zones etc. They stated then and reiterated several times later that this was not yet a done deal. They got lots of push back throughout the meeting countering that statement It was noted several times in rebuttal that actually all this activity was already going on and had been since 2010. It was only public groundswell pressure which forced BLM and Fort Carson to turn a project into a formal proposal which is supposedly open to change or cancellation. People weren't buying it. (see my later comment)

Only about 15 or so got to a microphone. It was impossible to get to all those who raised their hands.There were a couple of uncritical supporters of the Army and the BLM. And many of those with critical comments or questions prefaced their remarks with expressions of military support, sometimes distinguishing between troops and brass.

The combination of actual comments and crowd murmerirng and grumbling (the buzz) was overwhelmingly critical. Several rounds of applause punctuated that.

There were several very pointed complaints: "Some idiot (or a similar word) from Kentucky flew a helicopter right over my house in the middle of the night and sent a beam of light right through my sun light ceiling" , one woman complained. ( A unit from Fort Campbell Kentucky was indeed one of the six Army units from outside Fort Carson to train there.)
Another said " a helicopter landed right in the middle of my pasture and sat there for a while far distant from any landing zone."

Captain Mathews the main Fort Carson presenter made several blunt comments. In response to a question about flight routes to and from the landing zones he stated that it was important to take as short a route as possible to save money because" it costs about $25,000 per hour in total every time we go on a helicopter training mission" (we have that on tape) Some clarification would seem to in order.

In response to another question about liability he made it clear that the Army did not have to clean up after any mishaps which might occur. "At that point it becomes a matter for local jurisdictions."

Another point of clarification was the Army's admission that while Fort Carson and the BLM were doing the agreement it applied to numerous other users of the landing zones, The list included other Army helicopter units (6 and counting) numerous National Guard units, Air Force, Marine and Navy helicopters too.

When the question was asked about what they did to record and respond to complaints they had already received the answer was clear. Fort Carson could only respond to complaints about Fort Carson helicopters. The other users needed to be respond to complaints relating to their helicopters. Wow! seemed to be the group response.
After Keith Burger of BLM kept stating how open they had been to public input from the very start of this in 2010 I wanted to tell the crowd about numerous Freedom of Information Requests I had made since 2010 with no response or in some cases official denials.   


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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Clinic named for WW 2 hero

Posted By on Thu, Dec 4, 2014 at 10:12 AM

An artist's rendering of the new clinic.
  • An artist's rendering of the new clinic.

A bill that authorizes the naming of the new Veterans Affairs clinic in Colorado Springs for a Medal of Honor winner awaits President Obama's signature.

In a news release, Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Doug Lamborn, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, lauded the Senate's passage of the bill to name the clinic after Floyd Kenneth Lindstrom of Colorado Springs.

From a news release issued by Udall's office:
Lindstrom, who spent his childhood at the Myron Stratton Home (then a home for indigent children) south of Colorado Springs and served in World War II, received the Medal of Honor for his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity" in single-handedly defeating a German counterattack on November 11, 1943, on a hill near Mignano, Italy. His citation notes that then-private first class Lindstrom "demonstrated aggressive spirit and complete fearlessness in the face of almost certain death." Lindstrom declined a non-combat assignment after being recommended for the Medal of Honor and was killed in action on February 3, 1944.

"As a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, I'm proud to have stood with the Colorado Springs veterans community to honor World War II Medal of Honor recipient PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom," Udall said. "The new veterans clinic bearing his name will serve as a lasting tribute to a Colorado Springs hero who put his own safety on the line so that others might live."

"Ensuring that our veterans have access to convenient, comprehensive health care has always been a priority of mine," Lamborn said. "It was an honor to partner with so many Southern Colorado veterans to help bring a fantastic new Colorado Springs Community Based Outpatient Clinic for our veterans. Today, the facility is complete. The Senate, thanks to the efforts of my colleague Senator Udall, has passed my bill designating the new clinic as the "PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic. PFC Lindstrom was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during WWII and is one of the Fifth Congressional District's - and the nation's - greatest heroes. He is buried in Colorado Springs at the Evergreen Cemetery and I can think of no one more deserving of this honor. I want to thank the Colorado Springs CBOC Naming Committee and everyone else who worked so hard to make this happen."

Udall and Lamborn attended the new clinic's ribbon cutting in September. The clinic, located at the corner of Fillmore Street and Centennial Boulevard in Colorado Springs, offers southern Colorado veterans access to expanded services such as audiology, physical therapy, optometry and mental health.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Your art here — on a Navy ship

Posted By on Tue, Dec 2, 2014 at 9:22 AM

Seriously, now. How many times do artists get the chance to design a masterpiece that will grace a U.S. Navy ship for the life of that ship?

That's exactly the opportunity available to artists in Colorado regarding the USS Colorado, now being built back east. Seems odd to name a ship after a land-locked state, but oh well. There's already a USS Denver and others named for states that, too, are land-locked.
The newest Navy nuclear submarine, USS Colorado (SSN 788), is conducting a Ship’s Crest art competition. The winner will have the honor of their artwork being prominently displayed throughout the 30-year lifetime of the ship. Curious about being a part of our nation’s history? Act now before the March 1st deadline. Check out for submission details.

The State of Colorado has been honored by the naming of the U.S. Navy’s newest nuclear submarine after the great state of Colorado. USS COLORADO (SSN 788) is currently under construction at Electric boat Shipyard in Groton, Conn. and is expected to be delivered to the fleet in late 2016. She is the 15th of the Virginia class submarines and the fourth ship named Colorado, the last being the Battleship COLORADO (BB-45) which was commissioned in 1923, over 90 years ago.

A United States Navy tradition is that each ship have an individual emblem, commonly referred to as the “Ship’s Crest”. These crests are prominently displayed on many high visibility areas to include uniforms, plaques, awards, stationary and media throughout the life of the ship. It is the responsibility of the ship’s commanding officer to develop this crest. Our state’s USS Colorado (SSN 788) Commissioning Committee has offered to assist the Commanding Officer by conducting a statewide contest to propose a crest for the commanding officer’s consideration.

The contest is two-tiered: a Senior Division contest, which will have the potential award of a $1,500 scholarship for the winner, plus a round-trip for two to the submarine’s commissioning ceremonies in Groton, CT. Submission requires a print-ready digital graphics image file and a $10 entry fee. The Junior Division contest is directed toward younger children and is to be submitted on standard size paper not larger than 8.5 X 11”. The entry must be accompanied with the submission form found on the Committee’s web site, Students in Middle School (up to and including 8th grade) may opt to compete either in the Junior Division or the Senior Division.

Submissions are currently open with a close on midnight March 1, 2015. Submission details are provided on the Committee’s web site:

Individual contributors may email questions to 

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Friday, November 21, 2014

PCMS hearing draws crowd, Lamborn endorsement

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 11:02 AM

The Army put equipment on display outside the building where a hearing was conducted Thursday night on a proposal to expand use of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. - BILL SULZMAN
  • Bill Sulzman
  • The Army put equipment on display outside the building where a hearing was conducted Thursday night on a proposal to expand use of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.

A public hearing about expanding the use of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site drew about 100 people to the PCMS building in southeast Colorado, according to two people who attended.

Bill Sulzman of Colorado Springs reports via email that attendees were greeted with a display of Stryker vehicles, which had been been driven there from Fort Carson on Thursday for the meeting. The Army also provided a display of drones, the Raven included.

"Young soldiers were demonstrating the ground devices in a fashion much like a young boy might do with a Christmas toy," Sulzman says, adding that one said, "Kids would love to have something like this." He also reports that two Stryker crewman he spoke with had never been to PCMS before.

"The meeting room was crowded, a hundred or so. Many could be identified as Army soldiers in uniform, civilian employees of various departments of the Army: public affairs, environmental staff, office of public works and training officials from PCMS. Probably 2/3 were members of the public," Sulzman says.

About 15 people spoke. "With few exceptions folks had critical comments or questions for the Hudson/Potomic firm which put together the study" two of whom Sulzman says told him they'd never been to PCMS before Thursday.

The mayor of Trinidad spoke in favor of the proposal, and a staffer for Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, delivered a letter from Lamborn to the Army about the proposed expanded training at PCMS.

Bill Sulzman, right, speaks to the crowd at the PCMS public hearing Thursday night. - DOUG HOLDREAD
  • Doug Holdread
  • Bill Sulzman, right, speaks to the crowd at the PCMS public hearing Thursday night.

"Several in the crowd wanted to know what it said," Sulzman says. "He refused to read it."

We obtained the letter, dated Nov. 20, from Lamborn's office. In it, the congressman says, in part:
PCMS remains our best Colorado and national asset for training our Army soldiers so they are ready to engage in combat in any desert and higher altitude semi-arid environment as America remains engaged in Afghanistan and across the Middle East. It remains a critical resource for our soldiers as they train for military missions throughout the world. As I stated for the record in May of 2009, "it is important to remember what is ultimately at stake, the safety of our troops in combat. We owe them the very best training we can give them so they can win wars and return home safely." I continue to support the use of the current PCMS national training range and its environmentally responsible management going forward. I pledge to ensure Congress supplies resources and oversight to guarantee PCMS viability and resiliency through the coming decade.
Here's the letter:
Doug Holdread of Trinidad also reported to us in an email, saying, "The crowd included the usual types; lots of ranchers of course, a few property rights and anti-government people, peace and justice advocates, environmentalist, conspiracy theorists, historic preservationists, local media, elected officials and representatives of our congressmen and senators."

He says people showed up from Trinidad, LaJunta, Colorado Springs, Denver and Boulder.

Paula Ozzello, of the Southern Colorado Environmental Council, lectured a Carson official on his responsibility to the "voiceless" residents of Pinon Canyon, referring to the wildlife population there, Holdread says.

"One rancher who lives in the area and has been bothered by low flying Army aircraft 'playing' above her cattle made the point that for her, the problem isn't urban sprawl, but 'military sprawl,'" Holdread says. "Rebecca Goodwin, board chairperson of Colorado Preservation Inc, challenged a statement in the EIS that land on the maneuver site is similar to the surrounding landscapes, making the point that 'it used to be similar.'" 

Here's Holdread's testimony:
My name is Doug Holdread.

Each time another EIS comes along I argue with myself about the value of participating. This time it was settled by the words of an Army General who said, "Only an ALERT AND KNOWLEDGEABLE CITIZENRY can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that SECURITY AND LIBERTY may prosper together." Those are the words of Dwight Eisenhower upon leaving the Presidency.

This NEPA process is important for two reasons: It's an opportunity for us to be the alert and knowledgeable citizens that Eisenhower urged us to be. NEPA requires the Army to describe the destruction that its actions will cause, in a public setting with the media and elected officials present. It also gives us standing in case, down the road we want to challenge the Army legislatively or in court.

No need to buy into secret agendas to get a vivid picture of destruction painted by this this EIS. It lists three categories in which "significant" adverse impacts will occur; the water, the plants and animals and the soil. The destruction of the top soil could trigger another dust bowl. The EIS says 62% of the soil is highly susceptible to wind erosion. Once destroyed, deep rooted native grasses take years to be reestablished. Large-scale maneuvers will strip the ground producing dust storms which could cause the depopulation of counties to the East, all the way to the Kansas and Oklahoma borders.

The EIS says this can be mitigated, made less catastrophic IF funding is available. We all know that funding is a big "if." The Army says lack of funding is the reason we're having only this one public meetings. Last time we did an EIS there were three, with a total of 850 participating.

Cumulative impacts are supposed to include past, present, and future actions. You have to add up all the damage over time. When PCMS was established our economy lost 3000 head of cattle. These days that's about $6,000,000. Over three decades that's a significant cumulative impact. Think of it like smoking. A few cigarettes as day for a year might have a minor impact on your health, but 50 years of smoking would probably be significant. We need to know how long the Army's planning to abuse our land. How long will they chip away at our unique and irreplaceable archaeological sites? Small annual levels of destruction add up. Constant degradation could end up being 100% destruction over time.

During scoping I submitted a suggested alternative that would return many of these sites to the public, by transferring the Hogback Cultural Corridor to a local redevelopment authority. Why should we pay the Army to stand guard over our archaeological treasures?

My alternative meets the screening criteria and would not curtail the stated need and purpose of this EIS. There is a precedent. In 1991 Senator Tim Wirth got 16,000 acres transferred to the Forest Service to create Picketwire Canyon. I hope my suggested alternative will be considered in the Final EIS.

Finally, lots of people were unable to attend this meeting. So, for the sake of allowing alert and knowledgeable citizens an opportunity to participate in our democratic process, extend the comment period for an additional 45 days, and schedule three more meetings in Trinidad, La Junta and Colorado Springs. 

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Have your say about helicopter training

Posted By on Thu, Nov 20, 2014 at 11:59 AM

A Chinook takes off from Camp Marmal in Afghanistan, at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains. High altitude pilot traning is proposed for land southwest of Colorado Springs. - SGT. FELIX ACEVEDO
  • Sgt. Felix Acevedo
  • A Chinook takes off from Camp Marmal in Afghanistan, at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains. High altitude pilot traning is proposed for land southwest of Colorado Springs.

Another public hearing has been scheduled regarding Fort Carson's application for use of Bureau of Land Management land southwest of Colorado Springs  and north of Cañon City. The first hearing was held in Cañon City on Oct. 7, and the public comment period was to expire on Nov. 7.

But now, public comment will be accepted until Dec. 19, according to a statement from BLM.

"We are reopening the comment period because residents in Park and Teller counties requested an additional public scoping meeting," BLM spokesman Kyle Sullivan says in an email. "We wanted to ensure that their comments would be captured in the draft Environmental Analysis."

Carson wants to use the land for "High Altitude Mountain Environmental Training (HAMET) for the Combat
Aviation Brigade stationed at Ft. Carson (as a tenant unit – permanently based at Fort Carson)
as well as for deploying Combat Aviation Brigades throughout the Army and other armed
services (non-tenant units)," the post says in its development plan.

The independent reported on the issue in a cover story, "Hard landings," March 19, 2014.

The plan seeks permission over decades to use 235 acres of the BLM land for 43 landing zones. Here's the proposal:
The meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 4 in Cripple Creek at the Heritage and Information Center, 9283 Highway 67. This is located just outside Cripple Creek. A presentation will be made at 5:30 p.m. the meeting is jointly sponsored by BLM and Fort Carson.

Here's the BLM's release:
Fort Carson has been using public lands in the Royal Gorge Field Office for High Altitude Mountain Environment Training under casual use since 2010. In 2013, Fort Carson requested a longer term agreement with BLM for HAMET activities. The HAMET program is designed to provide pilots experience flying and landing helicopters in high elevation, mountainous terrain. Casual use has occurred on 27 helicopter landing zones on BLM-managed public lands.

Fort Carson has submitted a Plan of Development to the BLM. The BLM is analyzing this plan through an open public process, and would like your help to identify what issues and concerns should be addressed in the EA and alternatives before the BLM begins drafting the document.

For more information about the use of BLM lands for HAMET activities, please visit the Royal Gorge Field Office website at:

This scoping period will run from Nov. 19 to Dec. 19, 2014. Comments concerning the proposed action, alternatives and identification of environmental issues are most helpful. For additional information or to submit a comment, please contact Nancy Keohane at 719-269-8531 or email comments to Keep up with Royal Gorge Field Office planning efforts at

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Carson calls meeting in the boonies

Posted By on Wed, Nov 5, 2014 at 7:46 AM

As we were writing the story in today's issue about the environmental study of the Pinion Canyon Maneuver Site, we heard from Doug Holdread, who's been working as an unpaid consultant with the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition for the past seven years.
Those concerned about the PCMS environment worry about wildlife. - RUSS DEFUSCO
  • Russ Defusco
  • Those concerned about the PCMS environment worry about wildlife.
As he describes it, "PCEOC has always been concerned that intensified and expanded training with the current PCMS might serve as a means of inducing expansion. By increasing training at the current site beyond its carrying capacity, the Army might 'create' a need for future expansion."

Now the draft Environmental Impact Statement has been issued and is the subject of a 45-day public comment period.

Holdread, who weighs in below, makes a salient point about where and when the one and only public meeting will be held: 30 miles from Trinidad and 50 miles from La Junta. The location alone might guarantee a light turnout.

The post says the meeting place was chosen to let the public see the equipment that will be used. The full statement is at the end of this blog.

Here's Holdread's take:
Fort Carson seems to have given up on the strategy of "winning the hearts and minds" of the public when it comes to its latest proposal to expand training at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, "PCMS Training and Operations Draft EIS."

According to an announcement sent out last week, the army will hold just one public meeting, and that will be out on the prairie at the maneuver site. The location and timing of this solitary public meeting seems strategically designed to exclude the public and the media.

It would appear that the Army has decided that involving citizens is problematic. After all, they had lots of public participation during the draft phase of the previous effort to expand training at Pinon Canyon; the 2006, "Transformation EIS”. Members of the public, in the form of the "Not-1-More-Acre" organization, successfully sued the Army in federal court, forcing them to scrap that flawed plan. During that EIS process, three public meetings were held; one in Trinidad, one in La Junta, and one in Colorado Springs. 850 people attended the three public meetings generating 5000 written public comments. (Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site Transformation EIS, Executive Summary, 2006)

It looks like Army strategists are worried that there might be similar public interest in the current EIS. If attendance at the two scoping meetings is any indication, their concerns just might be justified. Scoping meetings are usually not a huge draw, but in the case of the current EIS there were plenty of interested members of the public; 50 people attended the meeting in Trinidad and 80 people attended the meeting in La Junta. According to the Army, "Comments received primarily asked the Army to consider closure of PCMS as an alternative." (PCMS Training and Operations Draft EIS, section S.9.1) So there may be reasons why the Army is trying to restrict access to the upcoming meeting by scheduling it at a place and time that they think will ensure a low turnout.

Rather than scheduling multiple meetings in places convenient to the public, they've scheduled a single meeting on their home turf, at the remote Pinon Canyon Site, 30 miles from Trinidad, 50 miles from La Junta and 150 miles from Colorado Springs. And they've scheduled it take place a week before Thanksgiving when the public's mind is occupied with holiday preparations and travel, and when bad weather on highway 350 is a distinct possibility.

They've also scheduled it at a time of day, 5:00 PM when attendance by any member of the public who works a job will be hard pressed to attend.

I suspect that Army strategists know that the public will be interested in the program outlined in the current draft EIS; Electronic warfare technologies including active energy emitting-weapons designed to jam cell phones, FM radios and other communications devices, the use of lasers, live fire and the use of explosives such at TNT and plastic explosives, drones and other robotic weapons, restrictions upon public air space, removal of trees from thousands of acres within proposed drop zones, as well as the removal of protective fencing around archaeological sites within the drop zones, loss of access to archaeological and other potential heritage tourism sites, (4,283 prehistoric and historic sites, 504 of which have been determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places), and a provision to accommodate future emerging weapons systems and doctrinal changes.

In their attempt to avoid yet another negative Pinon Canyon public relations disaster the Army may be creating one; the exclusion of the public from its so-called "public meetings."
Carson told us via email:
"The decision to have a single public meeting at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site was made to allow the public to actually see the Army equipment, to include Strykers, that will be used during training on PCMS. During a fiscally constrained environment, holding one meeting is a savings to the taxpayer and the Army. Many of those who may desire to attend the meeting live in close proximity to PCMS. At no time is Fort Carson attempting to quell public comment, the goal is to give the public a greater understanding of the mission of PCMS and the purpose of the draft EIS.

The venue can accommodate approximately 100 people. No one will be turned away from the meeting. Past meetings have averaged around 75 people."

Dani Johnson
Chief, Media Relations
Fort Carson Public Affairs
The draft EIS is here:
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Athletics are 'effective' at Air Force Academy, Inspector General says

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 5:20 PM

  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
In a news release just out, the Air Force Academy announces that an Inspector General's examination of the Athletic Department found it was "effective" in managing resources, leading people, improving the unit and executing the mission.

That falls in the middle of possible ratings, with "outstanding" being the highest rating and "ineffective" being the lowest.

The review, ordered in August, was not sought in response to recent Gazette reports of allegations of sexual assault against athletes and honor code violations, academy officials say.

Rather, it's the first of five mission elements that will under go review under a newly adopted inspection system introduced last year throughout the Air Force. (The Independent reported about the academy's character issues in "Cracks in the Code," April 11, 2012.)

The next academy element to submit to an IG review will be the preparatory school, about which the Independent reported a year ago ("A prep to protect," Nov. 13, 2013). In that report, we cited numerous studies that pointed out weaknesses in the prep school, and noted the graduation rate for preppies is lower than those admitted directly to the academy, based on data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act over a span of 18 months

The Indy story also noted that the academy fields competitors in 26 NCAA Division 1 sports with a student body of only 4,000, compared to 16 NCAA Division 1 sports at the University of Colorado at Boulder, which has a student population of about 26,000 — which suggests the academy's emphasis on sports and athletes might give rise to relaxing standards in order to admit star athletes who otherwise wouldn't be there and/or toleration of their bad behavior. The academy vigorously denies that, saying the purpose of athletics is to build leadership and character.

Here's the release: 
The Air Force Academy Inspector General office completed its inspection of the Academy Athletic Department and the overall grade was “effective,” which indicates the unit performs its mission. The inspection team highlighted both unit strengths as well as areas for improvement.
“This inspection validates some of the areas where we know we can improve,” said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson. “However, it also highlights there have been significant gains over the past year and that there are program strengths and a number of areas in the department that are effectively meeting their mission.”
Nothing rose to the threshold that would require a follow-on legal investigation.
“The purpose of an inspection is to give leaders an independent assessment of the overall effectiveness, readiness, discipline and resources of a unit so that leaders can take those results and make improvements,” said Academy Inspector General, Col. David Kuenzli.
According to General Johnson, this inspection report will allow the Academy to do just that.
Using a unit inspection process established Air Force-wide over the past year, the IG inspected portions of the Athletic Department against four major graded areas: Managing Resources, Leading People, Improving the Unit and Executing the Mission. Those major graded areas align with the expectations for all Air Force unit leaders as directed by Air Force Instruction 1-2, Commander's Responsibilities.
Ratings can range from outstanding, highly effective, effective, marginally effective, or ineffective.
Colonel Kuenzli also said it’s important to differentiate between an inspection and an investigation.
“We (the Academy IG) conduct inspections as well as investigations. As explained previously, this was a standard unit inspection using a methodology established by the Air Force inspection process,” said Kuenzli. “This was not an investigation. Investigations are based on specific allegations that an agency violated a DOD or Air Force regulation, or any laws that govern the DOD.” However, he also added that “It’s important to note that while this was an inspection, it did not uncover any allegations that would initiate an investigation.”
In addition to the core IG team, the IG recruited, trained and certified inspectors as subject matter experts from areas like finance, contracting and manpower. The inspection team also employed resident expertise from the aculty to assess the Athletic Department’s strategic alignment and organizational practices.
Some of the department’s strengths and best practices included the fact that the department excels in executing its mission. The inspection highlighted that all cadets are afforded a competitive experience in a physically demanding environment and department employees exceptionally plan, orchestrate and successfully execute hundreds of events annually. In addition, intercollegiate coaches are continuously considering cadets’ time, especially when balancing the desire to train for competitions with the rigorous demands of the Academy, to include academics, military and leadership training.
The NCAA compliance section was a notable strength because NCAA standards are communicated and understood, consistently applied and non-selectively enforced.
Regarding areas for improvement, the IG report noted that department pride in its mission remains high, but morale has suffered from various external and internal factors such as sequestration and budget constraints. The inspection identified a culture in which members had lost a sense of common belonging and recommended several methods to compliment the on-going improvement efforts. It also recommended improvements to the management of administrative and personnel actions.
“I want to thank the IG members for their professional and thorough inspection that will only better this institution as we continue to spread the mindset of a Culture of Commitment and Climate of Respect,” said General Johnson. “This offers yet another opportunity for us to continue to improve and grow.”

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

UPDATE: Will Carson's CAB fly over public lands?

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 1:18 PM

High altitude helicopter training over federal lands was the subject of a public meeting Tuesday night. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • High altitude helicopter training over federal lands was the subject of a public meeting Tuesday night.
UPDATE: Fort Carson called late yesterday to correct its previous statement confirming only 70 aircraft as part of the Combat Aviation Brigade have arrived at the post. A spokeswoman says 90 aircraft have arrived.

——-UPDATE POSTED WED., OCT. 8, 2014, 1:18 PM————

Fort Carson just got back to us via email to answer a few questions about the Combat Aviation Brigade's status. A spokesperson confirmed construction will take another 2 1/2 years, that only about 70 helicopters are at the post, and that two hangars aren't yet complete. As for air space limiting the use of drones, the post says, "Air space will not restrict Fort Carson from basing more Unmanned Aerial Systems in the future."

The email went on to say:
Additionally, Opening lines of communication with our neighbors is always a positive event. Fort Carson is committed to "flying friendly," both when our 4th Combat Aviation Brigade helicopters are training and when we host training for units from other installations. We strive to keep noise issues and other disruptions to a minimum by enforcing Fort Carson policies and procedures that regulate minimum altitudes for flying around populated areas.

- We will continue to listen to our community and work through any noise pollution issues that arise. We have a fly-friendly policy when working with our community to balance training with respecting our neighbors.

- As always, concerned community members are encouraged to direct complaints to the Fort Carson Community Relations office at (719) 526-9849, 1256 or 1246. We take every complaint very seriously and strive to address concerns in a timely and thoughtful manner.
————— ORIGINAL POST WED., OCT. 8, 2014, 11:46 AM ———————

As we've previously reported, ("Hard landings," March 19, 2014) Fort Carson is looking for a permanent arrangement with the Bureau of Land Management to conduct High Altitude Mountain Environmental Training over land southwest of Colorado Springs.

We didn't make the public meeting last night in Canon City, but peace activist Bill Sulzman showed up. We've found him to be a reliable observer, so we'll let him tell you what happened, as recounted in an email to us this morning:
Susan Gordon and I attended the scoping meeting in Canon City. I was pleasantly surprised by both the turnout (more than 30) and the precise questions used to challenge both the BLM and the Army. There were questioners from the ranching community, the educational community and a variety of residents living in remote locations in the county. Many have already experienced excessive noise from helicopters. Technically they did not allow for statements but many worked statements into their questions.

At several points both BLM spokespersons and Army presenters seemed flummoxed by the questions from a very well informed crowd. A couple of Colorado Springs politicians attempted to score points by insinuating that those asking questions and expressing opposition were somehow unpatriotic. It didn't fly. Reminded me of some of the Pinon Canyon EIS hearings. In short there was a major push back against the proposed expansion of air space and ground locations. 
Sulzman goes on to tell us that he took the opportunity to talk to Carson officials about progress of the Combat Aviation Brigade, which "fully" activated in May this year, according to Carson.

He reports:
• The CAB construction is nowhere near completion. At least 2.5 more years before it's done.
• Same goes for the helicopter fleet. Only 70 of the expected 120 are there so far. Part of the holdup is that they still have to construct two more hangars.
• It is clear they still want to add the big armed drones but are stymied by lack of air space.

"Expect more hearings to free up that space," he adds. "One of my sources was clear that both current drone training and expanded plans for drone training favor PCMS. He lamented that the landing strip at PCMS needs to be expanded. Probably another hearing on that to come."

We've asked Fort Carson to comment on the lag time in bringing the CAB up to speed and will update if and when we hear anything.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

BLM sets hearing on chopper training

Posted By on Tue, Sep 30, 2014 at 10:58 AM

As we reported earlier this year ("Hard landings," March 19, 2014), the Army is seeking a permanent arrangement with the Bureau of Land Management for high altitude helicopter training over land southwest of Colorado Springs.

A hearing will be held next week, and people who wish to comment can do so as advised in this news release:
Helicopter pilots need to be trained in how to fly in high altitudes. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Helicopter pilots need to be trained in how to fly in high altitudes.
CANON CITY, Colo. – The Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field Office wants your input on Fort Carson’s proposal to use public lands for helicopter training.

The BLM and Fort Carson are hosting a public meeting on Oct. 7 at the Abbey Event Complex, Benedictine Room, 2951 E. U.S. 50, Cañon City, CO 81212. The public meeting will run from 5:30-7:30 pm, with a presentation scheduled for 6 pm.

Fort Carson has used public lands in the Royal Gorge Field Office for High Altitude Mountain Environment Training since 2010 on a temporary and infrequent basis. In 2013, Fort Carson requested a longer term agreement with the BLM for HAMET activities. The HAMET program is designed to provide pilots experience flying and landing helicopters in high elevation, mountainous terrain.

Fort Carson has submitted a Plan of Development to the BLM. The BLM is analyzing this plan through an open public process, and would like your help to identify what issues and concerns should be addressed in the environmental assessment before the BLM begins drafting the document.

For more information about the use of BLM lands for HAMET activities, please visit the Royal Gorge Field Office website at:

This scoping period will run from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1, 2014. Comments concerning the proposed action, alternatives and identification of environmental issues are most helpful. For additional information or to submit a comment, please contact Nancy Keohane at 719-852-8531 or email comments to Keep up with Royal Gorge Field Office planning efforts here.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Congressional panel takes up religion in the military

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 9:54 AM

Weinstein: Will speak to Congress. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Weinstein: Will speak to Congress.
For the first time, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been asked to testify at a congressional hearing.

The MRFF's founder and chief Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, N.M., will testify on Sept. 19 at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

Here's the notification he received from the House:
Mr. Weinstein, in follow-up to our phone conversation, the Military Personnel Subcommittee, chaired by Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) and ranking member, Susan Davis (D-CA), are holding a hearing on religious freedom in the military on Friday, September 19th at 8 a.m. in 2118 Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing is expected to last from 8-10 a.m., and we expect to have 3 other witnesses from outside organizations testify. There will be no government witnesses at the hearing.

We appreciate your consideration to agree to testify. A hearing invitation letter will be sent to you, which will include the details of submitting a written testimony, along with your disclosure form. We ask witnesses to keep their oral statements to 3-4 minutes to afford greater interaction and dialogue among members. In addition to the subcommittee members, we expect members of the committee to attend the hearing, along with potentially members not on the committee given the interest in this topic.
Weinstein says he understands he'll be one of at least four witnesses.

"This gives a voice to those in the military who don't have a voice," Weinstein says via telephone. "We currently represent more than 38,100 active duty members, including 379 cadets, faculty and staff at the Air Force Academy." Most identify as Protestant and Catholic, he says.

"This is a victory for our clients and our staff and for the U.S. Constitution," he adds. "I'm honored for being given the opportunity."

Weinstein recently spoke at Duke University and is slated to speak on Sept. 26 at Patrick Henry College, an Evangelical Christian-based school in Purcellville, Va., in its newsmaker series.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Peterson officer is Miss Black USA 2014

Posted By on Mon, Aug 11, 2014 at 3:54 PM

Jasmine Alexander is crowned. - NICOLE L. CVETNIC/THE ROOT
  • Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root
  • Jasmine Alexander is crowned.
An intelligence officer at Peterson Air Force Base was selected Sunday night as Miss Black USA. Jasmine Alexander was crowned in Washington, D.C., at the University of the District of Columbia Performing Arts Center.

Alexander, 26, competed in the contest as Miss Black Colorado and was chosen over 24 other contestants, the pageant said in a news release.

More from the release:
In 2013, Alexander was deployed to Afghanistan on a special mission to provide pertinent information to the troops to secure their safety. Immediately after being crowned, Alexander said, “As a member of the Armed Forces and now as Miss Black USA, I can’t think of a better way to serve my country.”

The newly crowned beauty queen will use her reign to promote the Heart Truth campaign to raise awareness of heart disease. “One in every four women die of heart disease and we really need to push fitness, healthy living, and a healthy lifestyle so that will be one of the first endeavors I undertake as Miss Black USA,” explains Alexander.

Alexander’s Miss Black USA prize package included a $5,000 scholarship and a trip to Africa. She holds a B.A. in Mass Communications and a Master’s degree in Human Services and Executive Leadership from Liberty University. Alexander is also a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

Top 5 Results:

Winner: Miss Black Colorado, Jasmin Alexander

1st Runner up: Miss Black Tennessee Gabrielle Lewis

2nd Runner up: Miss Black California, Jasmine Johnson

3rd Runner up: Miss Black Ohio, Terra Strong

4th Runner up: Miss Black Washington, Alexandra Morton

Founder’s Award: Miss Black Kentucky, LaPrecious Brewer

Community Service Award: Miss Black Maryland, DeJanee Fennell

Miss Congeniality: Miss Black Alabama, Jessica Alexander

Miss Talented Teen 2014: Miss Black California, Kylee Johnson 

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Air Force Academy chooses 'attractive location'

Posted By on Thu, Jul 24, 2014 at 10:04 AM

Here's the view to the west from the site chosen for the Air Force Academy's new visitors center. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Here's the view to the west from the site chosen for the Air Force Academy's new visitors center.

The Air Force Academy's new visitors center will be built just outside the north gate west of Interstate 25, as reported first in the Independent's edition this week. The project is part of the proposed $250-million City for Champions tourism venture.

Today, the academy released a statement outlining its decision, as previously explained in an interview with the Indy on Monday.
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – The Academy will move forward next month on the first step toward building a new visitor center just west of Interstate 25, the director of installations said July 21.

Carlos Cruz-Gonzalez said the Air Force's Financial Management Center of Expertise in Denver conducted business case analyses on several alternatives, including sites at Falcon Stadium, on the east side of I-25, using leased space in an unfinished office complex near Interquest Parkway or using the existing visitor center site, before settling on a site just north of the Santa Fe Trail parking lot on the west side of I-25, just outside the North Gate.

"It gives us an opportunity to simplify our security situation," he said. "If, heaven forbid, we have another incident like Sept. 11, 2001, and we have to close access to the installation, people can still access the visitor center."

The Academy will use a public-private partnership to build the new facility, Cruz-Gonzalez said. The Academy uses a public-private partnership for base housing, as do several other Air Force bases.

"It's an attractive location," he said. "If private parties want to collaborate with us and can build a facility for what the land is worth, we see it as an opportunity to leverage a public-private partnership."

Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson asked the Installations Directorate, staff to consider intangible factors such as campus security, accessibility to the visitor center and the capability to expand. Only the I-25 site met these equirements, as Falcon Stadium lies within the Academy's security cordon.

Another benefit to the site is that the Cadet Area and Cadet Chapel — and soon the Center for Character and Leadership Development — are all visible from I-25. What's more, locating the visitor center near I-25 would save people from making the three-mile drive to the center's current location.

The construction process will begin with an environmental impact assessment scheduled to take about six months, Cruz-Gonzalez said. If that goes favorably, A7 will work with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, to draft a request for proposal.

"We're taking under-used assets, in this case acreage, and making it available at fair-market value for a private agency to develop and provide the Air Force Academy a service in kind," he said. "In this case, the service in kind would be a visitor center. The Civil Engineer Center will issue a request for proposal, and we'll see what comes up — who's interested and what proposals they'll put on the table."

Based on the RFP's complexity, that part of the process could take anywhere from six months to two years, Cruz-Gonzalez said. The Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics would award the contract. Actual construction would take at least two years, meaning the Academy could finish construction by 2020.

The A7 staff said they'll consider bids with sensitivity to what the institution represents, both architecturally and in terms of the Academy's brand, Cruz-Gonzalez said.

"We're very proud of the architectural heritage here, and we would expect the facility to reflect that," he said. "We want people, when they visit the Air Force Academy visitor center, to see the connection to the Air Force and to the Academy."

The new visitor center could improve the visitor experience by listing everything that's available to people before they set foot on the campus, Cruz-Gonzalez said.

"We have the chapel and the CCLD, but we also have the Falcon Athletic Center; we have activities at the Cadet Field House; we have several overlooks where people can get a great view of the Cadet Area, and if they visit at the right time of day, they can see some of the wildlife here. We have the Association of Graduates' Heritage Trail. The visitor center then becomes the foundation of a program to better manage the visitor experience."

The Academy's Public Affairs Directorate would run the facility, as it does now, with space set aside for a gift shop and a food operation. A new visitor center would also include a 250-seat theater and large conference room.
As for the current visitor center, David Cannon, the Academy's director of communication, said the current VC could be used as a museum and admissions activities.

"We are a part of the Pikes Peak region," Cannon said. "We are a part of that destination and want to see our visitors to the Air Force's Academy back to pre-9/11 levels. Having the Visitor Center near the north gate and I-25 can help us do that. We want to be in the discussion when people think about visiting the area."

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Two Carson aviation officials suspended

Posted By on Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 12:58 PM

Not much is known about an investigation of the command team for 1st Batallion, 25th Aviation regiment, as reported last week by Army Times.
The command team for 1st Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, has been suspended pending an ongoing investigation.

Fort Carson officials confirmed that the battalion commander and command sergeant major were suspended in early July.
Army Times reports that Lt. Col. Tammy Baugh and Command Sgt. Maj. Derrick Merriwether are on suspension.

By Monday, Carson had nothing new to add, offering only this recycled statement first reported by Army Times last week:

The 1st Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment commander and command sergeant major have been suspended due an ongoing investigation. An investigating officer has been appointed to review the health of the command climate within 1-25 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

AFA stirs more religion debate

Posted By on Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 5:30 PM

Air Force Academy Chapel.
  • Air Force Academy Chapel.
The fundamentalist American Family Association has gathered more than 100,000 signatures of those who think the military should be able to practice their religion on duty, or at least not be barred by an Air Force Instruction from declaring their beliefs to anyone and everyone in their military workplaces.

That instruction is under review after a recent incident, reported here first, triggered outrage on both sides of the issue. Rep. Doug Lamborn lashed out at the academy, urging the rules be changed to allow Christians to have "free expression."

Here's a part of the association's news release:
TUPELO, Miss.—On Wednesday, the Air Force Academy was the recipient of thousands of petitions calling for Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson to protect the religious expression of cadets in light of recent acts of discrimination against them.

The Family Research Council and the American Family Association ( gathered more than 105,000 signatures in the petition drives, which came in the wake of an incident earlier this year in which a cadet was pressured to remove a Bible verse he had written on his personal white-board outside his dorm room, after an anti-Christian group claimed offense. The verse was Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me….”

“The very thought that one of our nation’s prestigious service academies would seek to stifle the religious expression of cadets is beyond comprehension,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon. “Our nation was built on liberty, particularly religious liberty; our Constitution enshrines liberty, and our flag symbolizes liberty. The men and women of our military dedicate themselves to defending our nation, upholding our Constitution, and honoring our flag. It’s time for our military to stop surrendering to anti-faith voices by denying cadets the rights and liberties they are willing to fight and die to protect. We urge Lt. Gen. Johnson to take a strong stand for the Constitutional rights and God-given liberties of our armed forces, and particularly of the cadets she leads.”

In March, the anti-Christian Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained to the Air Force Academy that the cadet’s Scripture posting was an offense to other cadets and some faculty members and created a ‘hostile environment,’ with the Foundation’s director, Mikey Weinstein, claiming the verse “massively poured fundamentalist Christian gasoline on an already raging out-of-control conflagration of fundamentalist Christian tyranny, exceptionalism and supremacy at USAFA.”

As Sandy Rios, AFA’s Director of Government Affairs, pointed out, however, it’s a mazing that a Scripture that speaks of self-sacrifice and dying to self could be construed as “tyranny.”
We asked Mikey Weinstein, a 1977 academy grad who founded the MRFF, which is NOT anti-Christian, by the way, to respond to this, so he did, in usual Mikey style, calling the petition signers "blind sheep":
The American Family Assn. (AFA) and the Family Research Council (FRC) yet once again immeasureably disgrace and wound our nation’s beautiful Constitution with the transparently bigoted and ignoble submission of their pitiful petition of fundamentalist Christian tyranny and oppression. They decry and scream like stuck pigs of nonexistent prejudice at the Academy against Chrstians. They lie, they cheat, they steal and they contort the truth as they always do. If they wish, let them gather millions of additional names of religious extremist bullies for their pathetic petition of shame. Indeed, it won’t make a lick of difference at all. As former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once said, ‘In America, we don’t count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.’ Pursuant to that very same Constitution, it’s contruing Federal and State caselaw and the Pentagon’s own internal regulations, directives and instructions, publicly displaying a sectarian bible verse next to your cadet name, cadet rank and cadet squadron postion, in the busy thoroughfare of military working common areas such as the cadet dorms, is simply unconstitutional and wrong. In fact, it is blatantly illegal irrespective of how many Christian fundamentalist, blind sheep EVER sign any petition from hate groups like the AFA and FRC.
Superintendent Johnson told reporters during a news briefing today that the instruction is under review and she would not comment further.

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AFA goes on the offensive

Posted By on Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 4:34 PM

Johnson: Getting ahead of the news?
  • Johnson: Getting ahead of the news?
Trying to get ahead of a rumored news report about to break about how sexual assault cases have been handled, the Air Force Academy today released data on investigations of a cadet party that took place in December 2011.

None of the information was new. 

Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said the party, and subsequent investigations that led officials to discover various cadet misbehavior, resulted in 32 cadets being investigated. Of those, 16 were football players, two were basketball players and one, a diver.

Three cadets were court-martialed on sex-related charges and were convicted; five were given Article 15 non-judicial punishment and dis-enrolled; six resigned and three were discharged due to misconduct unrelated to the original party allegations. Fifteen of those accused graduated, of which seven were football players.

The academy scrambled to put together the accounting after word circulated that news outlets, including ABC News and the New York Times (via its newest reporter, former Gazette writer Dave Philipps) were working on a story. The upshot of the rumored exclusive, according to sources with some knowledge of the reporting effort, is that former superintendent retired Lt. Gen. Mike Gould and other academy leaders serving at that time allegedly knew about multiple cases of sexual assault but gave the offenders, who were football players, a pass. Gould played football for the academy as a cadet and is a well-known champion of Falcon Football.

Also rumored are that four women will tell their stories about multiple rapes that occurred and apparently weren't prosecuted.

Johnson was forthright in disseminating the information on the December 2011 party/investigation, but she noted, "I wasn't here four years ago. What I can control is going forward."

All that came down in a conference room next door to Johnson's office after a handful of reporters were invited to the academy this afternoon to hear Johnson give an appraisal of where the academy stands today after her first 11 months on the job. It was a busy time for the public affairs staff, being the day doolies arrived to begin their journey toward degrees.

About 35 minutes into her recap of progress at the academy, Johnson invited questions, and the first came from Gazette military reporter Tom Roeder, who asked about the 2011 case, leading to the accounting mentioned above.

She also gave an update on the freshman cheating incident from last academic year. While 42 cadets were investigated for cheating on a chemistry lab report, 23 cases were dropped. One cadet resigned. Ten were found to have violated the honor code, and eight were found not in violation. The academy didn't release how the violators were punished. 

Johnson noted all were freshmen, and the academy has a hard job of indoctrinating youth into the culture of honor of the Air Force. "It's an educational and developmental process," she said.

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