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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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

New NorthCom leader chosen

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 1:16 PM

Gortney: Chosen to lead NorthCom. - COURTESY U.S. NAVY
  • Courtesy U.S. Navy
  • Gortney: Chosen to lead NorthCom. reports that new leaders for three important commands have been chosen, including a replacement for Army Gen. Charles Jacoby at Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

According to the report, Navy Adm. Bill Gortneyhead of Fleet Forces Command, has been nominated to take charge of NorthCom and NORAD.

Gortney, if confirmed, would be the third Navy admiral appointed to head the command, the others being Adm. Timothy Keating, who took over in 2004 and oversaw the decision to move surveillance operations from the bunker base at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, and Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, a Top Gun pilot who was snatched away mid-assignment in 2011 to become vice chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff.

We get that the military can't let well enough alone and rotates commanders in and out after three or so years. But the bad part about losing Jacoby is, the area loses a leader committed to the homeland security mission that brings the armed forces into play with civil authorities during our wildland fire season, as well as flooding hazards.

Local folks have spoken highly about Gen. Jacoby, so it's hard to think about breaking in a new guy.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Carson ban still in place

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 8:52 AM

In today's edition, we report that two soldier advocates are suing several military members, including an Army lieutenant general, in efforts to get an order lifted that bars them from Fort Carson.

Robert Alvarez and Georg-Andreas Pogany have become well known for their crusade on behalf of soldiers who suffer from war-related injuries like PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Some of these soldiers are caught doing bad things like driving drunk or smoking pot, triggering a criminal charge that leads to their being discharged without benefits, including medical treatment.

Sure is strange that Carson would oust them after they were invited to the table by Trial Defense Services in 2012. In fact, TDS honored Pogany in 2009 with an award.
The post's then-garrison commander Col. David Grosso issued letters to Alvarez and Pogany in November 2012 saying they were disruptive to good order and discipline.

Despite repeated pleas for an investigation that would show that isn't true, the two have gotten nowhere and the order still stands.

It even prevented Pogany from attending a memorial service last fall for a fallen soldier. Grosso told Pogany the family didn't want him there, Pogany says, but the family gave a different story.

"I talked to the family and received an e-mail from the widow, and she says Grosso never asked her and she told nobody I couldn't be at the memorial service," Pogany says. "She was upset they would disrespect her husband in that way."

Moreover, Pogany has been honored repeatedly for his advocacy, including by three senators in 2006, one of whom now occupies the White House. The letter was addressed to then Carson commander Maj. Gen. Robert Mixon Jr., and then Command Sgt. Maj. Terrance McWilliams, who now serves as Vice President for Military and Veteran Affairs at El Pomar Foundation.

Here's that letter:

Although the barment letters don't say what led to the action, Alvarez and Pogany had been working with a soldier in late October to try to get his ouster reversed so he could get treatment for his PTSD. During his out-processing, Alvarez accompanied the soldier but said nothing to post officials during the process, he says. Pogany was in Denver that day, he says.

If you want to read more about that soldier's experience, and what the Army does to people who try to run interference for these warriors, check out this Aljazeera America story penned by Dave Philipps and published in January.

Philipps is the Gazette reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize in national reporting last month for his series on this topic that ran last year, but it's odd that the local daily newspaper wasn't interested in publishing the story he wrote for Aljazeera and another one he wrote that ran in March. In that story, he takes post commander Gen.Joseph Anderson to task for his tactics in getting rid of soldiers.

All of which raises questions about why Grosso barred these two advocates from post and about whether Grosso acted alone (doubtful) or was ordered by Anderson to bar them from post (probably).

The biggest question of all is: Will we ever know the truth?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Free tickets for AFA graduation, Thunderbirds

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2014 at 9:30 AM

The Air Force Academy's graduation will once again host a performance by the Thunderbirds. - AIR FORCE THUNDERBIRDS
  • Air Force Thunderbirds
  • The Air Force Academy's graduation will once again host a performance by the Thunderbirds.

If you've never attended the Air Force Academy's graduation, here's your chance — at no cost.

But you have to be one of the lucky 600 to snap up reserved-seat tickets for the May 28 event. After the graduates are declared second lieutenants, and as they toss their hats into the air, the Thunderbirds will zoom overhead, unlike last year when the aerial show was canceled due to sequestration.

If interested, here's where you can get tickets and how to prepare for this signature event, according to the academy's news release:
Tickets must be picked up in person at one of three locations:

• The Business Alliance offices at 102 S. Tejon Street, Suite 430, in Colorado Springs, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
• The Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce offices, at 300 Colorado Highway 105 in Monument, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
• The Air Force Academy’s Athletic Ticket Office, at the Cadet Field House, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

A maximum of four tickets per person are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets must be picked up in person and cannot be held or mailed. Lost tickets cannot be replaced.

The Air Force Academy’s Graduation Ceremony begins at 9:30 a.m., on May 28 in Falcon Stadium and will include a commencement speech by the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.

Falcon Stadium gates open at 7 a.m. on graduation day and ticket holders are encouraged to arrive no later than 8:30 a.m. Traffic will be heavy entering the base and stringent security measures will be in effect.

Stadium security staff will check tickets, IDs, and hand-carried items and attendees will be scanned by airport-style metal detectors. No boxes, alcohol, weapons, firecrackers, backpacks, large handbags, coolers, thermoses, beverage containers of any sort or similar items will be allowed in the stadium. No sticks or poles (to include tripods) may be brought into the stadium, but small folding umbrellas may be carried. Food and drink are prohibited with the exception of clear, unopened water bottles and medically necessary items with a doctor’s order. Refreshments will be available from vendors throughout the stadium.

Cameras, video cameras and binoculars are permitted; however, please be prepared to remove camera lenses for security inspection at the stadium gates. Diaper bags will be allowed when a child is present; no strollers please.

Once the ceremony begins at 9:30 a.m., no one is allowed to leave the stadium until after the end of the Thunderbirds’ performance at about 1:00 p.m. To ensure compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, no one will be allowed in parked cars or driving or walking within the performance area.

The Air Force Academy graduation ceremony is conducted in an outdoor stadium and extensive walking and stair climbing may be necessary. Guests should be prepared for any kind of weather; there is no indoor seating for the ceremony. Medical staff will be available for individuals who may experience illness or other medical emergencies.

Handicapped and wheelchair seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis and is located at the top of Sections U2, U5, U9, U12, M2, M6, M10, M14, L3, L6, L7, L9, L10 and L-13. The entire top row of Sections L-2 through L-14 is reserved for handicapped guests. Note that there are no elevators in the stadium but handicapped seating may be accessed without requirement to walk stairs. Handicapped parking is available at the north side of the stadium in lot 5, accessible via the North Gate. Golf carts will be available to transport handicapped guests from the parking areas to the stadium.

In the event of severe, life-threatening weather or security response to a high-threat world situation, the ceremony could be moved into Clune Arena at the Cadet Field House. Because Clune has limited seating capacity, guests of graduating cadets will be restricted to three per cadet and public ticket holders will not be able to attend. For this reason, we make every attempt to hold the graduation ceremony outdoors in Falcon Stadium, even in less than ideal weather conditions.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Military writer wins national award

Posted By on Tue, May 13, 2014 at 10:52 AM

Branum: Took the top DoD communications award. - COURTESY AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
  • Branum: Took the top DoD communications award.
It's not the Pulitzer, but Don Branum at the Air Force Academy still has a lot to be proud of as the recipient of the Defense Department's 2013 Civilian Communicatory of the Year award.

"I was out of the office the day the awards were announced, so the first I heard of it was when Lt. Col. Brus Vidal (Academy Public Affairs office director) called to congratulate me," Branum said in a news release. "My reaction, in a word, was 'wow.' Even more than a week later, I'm still not entirely sure what to think."

More from the release:

The award is part of the Thomas Jefferson Awards Program, recognizing Defense Department journalists worldwide for outstanding achievement in promoting the goals of the DOD's Internal Information Program, a program responsible for, among other things, telling the Air Force story to a global audience.

"Essentially, Don just won the highest honor any Defense Department journalist may receive, the DOD equivalent of the civilian Pulitzer Prize," said David Cannon, the Academy's communication director. "This award tells us what we already know — that Don is an extremely talented writer, not only able to tell the Academy story, but to tell it in a way that shows the impact across the DOD and across our Air Force."

Thomas Jefferson Award officials consider a writer's "range, continuity and quality of the stories" when determining award recipients, said Robert Hood, the Defense Information School's Competitions Coordinator at Fort Meade, Md. Fort Meade is home to DINFOS, where are all DOD public affairs specialists — Airmen and civilians — are trained.

In 2013, Branum covered a variety of topics for the Academy, but perhaps none were as important and wide-ranging as his coverage on sexual assault, the effects of force shaping, religious diversity and a wealth of other issues that didn't just affect the Academy, but influenced the DOD at large, not to mention public perception of the Air Force's only academy. 

Branum, 39, joined the Air Force in 1999 as a computer programmer but retrained into Public Affairs in 2004.

Then-Staff Sgt. Don Branum graduated from DINFOS that same year as a distinguished graduate. Since then, he's received numerous Air Force and command-level Public Affairs awards as an Airman and as a civilian, including Air Force Civilian Print Journalist of the Year, third place, 2013; Air Force Space Command Print Journalist of the Year, 2007; and Air Force Space Command Best News Article, 2007.

He left the Air Force in 2011 but remains in Public Affairs. 

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