Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Carson takes part in NORAD drill

Posted By on Wed, Jul 22, 2015 at 11:03 AM

The scene at the NORAD entrance in Cheyenne Mountain on July 15. - U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY SENIOR AIRMAN TIFFANY DENAULT
  • U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tiffany DeNault
  • The scene at the NORAD entrance in Cheyenne Mountain on July 15.

Something is afoot with the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command.

What makes us think so? First, the government approved a $700 million contract with Raytheon recently to provide communications inside Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, where NORAD and NorthCom have "warm standby" operations after moving headquarters about eight or nine years ago to Peterson Air Force Base.
(In the news release below, the official status of the mountain bunker is called an Alternate Command Center.)

Now, we learn that Fort Carson and Peterson forces participated in an exercise last week with the Cheyenne Mountain station. Maybe this has been going on for awhile, but it's the first we've heard of such a drill.

This release comes from the 21st Space Wing's public affairs section: 
CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. — Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, respond to an exercise at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station with Strykers and Humvees July 15.

Existing support agreements ensure support between 21st Space Wing assets and Fort Carson during real world situations. The blocking force exercise tested the ability of Fort Carson and CMAFS to execute a joint mission, manage resources, stewardship of manpower and equipment readiness.

Owned and operated by the 21st SW on Peterson Air Force Base, CMAFS is designated as the Alternate Command Center, the primary being at North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command also located on Peterson AFB.

"The exercise demonstrates our joint commitment to protect the strategic missions of national significance in continuous operations at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station," said Col. Gary Cornn, 721st Mission Support Group and installation commander. "This is an important exercise showing the capability of Fort Carson's response if there is an increased threat."

The 4th ID, 1SBCT responded to provide a physical blocking force on key avenues of approach to CMAFS. In the event of a real world situation, the vehicles and personnel from Fort Carson would also be used for extra firepower, medical support, engineering and logistical support.

Strykers are eight-wheeled combat vehicles that are road legal and able to deploy immediately on and off road. The vehicles are capable of executing an array of missions and scenarios; more so than any other vehicle in the Department of Defense, said Maj. Kevin Boyd, 4th ID, 1SBCT public affairs officer. The Strykers give the 4th ID unique capabilities other Fort Carson units do not have.

"Working together in this joint security exercise was valuable for us as we worked the 759th Military Police Battalion from Fort Carson to open a closed gate to facilitate our movement up the mountain, and with the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station security forces to conduct link-up and support their security posture," said Boyd. "For our Soldiers it is important to know our neighbors and how we can conduct mutual aid for them to understand exactly what is needed and where to respond in a time of crisis cuts down our response time and enables us to bring the proper equipment."

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

UPDATE: Only 365 troops cut from Fort Carson

Posted By on Thu, Jul 9, 2015 at 10:52 AM

A helicopter is on display at an entrance to Fort Carson. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A helicopter is on display at an entrance to Fort Carson.
UPDATE:  Mayor John Suthers has issued a statement regarding the cuts at Fort Carson

"The Pentagon’s announcement this morning regarding minimal troop reductions at Ft. Carson is good news for Colorado Springs and is an indication of the importance of Ft. Carson in the overall defense mission. It also reflects positively on the case Colorado Springs has made on behalf of Ft. Carson," he says in the statement.

"However, we have to remain vigilant as there will likely be another round of proposed reductions next year and we must continue to make the case for maintaining troops levels here in the future."

Here's the outline of cuts and gains by Fort Carson in the force reduction maneuver of the Department of Defense.

———————————————ORIGINAL POST 10:52 a.m. WED., JULY 9, 2015———————————————————

There might not be dancing in the streets, but you can be assured some are celebrating an announcement on military force reduction that will result in Fort Carson losing only 365 troops.

It's almost too good to be true, considering the cut could have eliminated up to 16,000 troops, or about two-thirds of those stationed at the Mountain Post.
Andy Merritt, with the Regional Business Alliance, says those cuts come in small units, and some of those will be offset by gains in others.

"We are very happy," he says in an interview. He adds the cut might not be the smallest across the country, with some bases losing 200 soldiers, but it could be the smallest percentage loss.

Considering some bases are losing entire brigade combat teams of 2,000 to 3,000 troops, "We've come out very, very well," Merritt says. "It's a strong statement of the value of Fort Carson and the support this community gives."

Merritt estimated the economic impact of the loss of 365 soldiers at about $25 million. "So it's not a large number," he says. "Obviously, every job counts. But it's over a two-year period. Our economy has the ability to absorb this."

Merritt says he hasn't seen any job loss numbers for civilian positions but thinks Carson will fare well on that as well.

Sen. Michael Bennet issued this release this morning in reaction to the cutback announcement:
We don’t want any cuts to Fort Carson. However, in light of the scope of today’s announcement, it is clear the Pentagon recognizes the strategic importance of Fort Carson and its missions, the critical role troops stationed there serve in protecting our national security, and all that Colorado offers our service members and their families. We commend the state and local communities for working together during this process to successfully emphasize those points to the Department of Defense.

Our office will continue to support efforts in Colorado Springs and throughout the state to further enhance the vital relationship between Colorado and our armed services. We will also continue to fight to replace the sequester, which is bad policy that could make these reductions worse and result in indiscriminate cuts to the Department of Defense and throughout the federal government.

As reductions are made, the Pentagon should provide service members with any resources needed for transition. Colorado’s communities stand ready to provide support for service members and their families.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

USAFA chief lauded by DAR

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2015 at 4:35 PM

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson received an award from the DAR President General Lynn Young. - COURTESY AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
  • Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson received an award from the DAR President General Lynn Young.
Who was Molly Corbin? She manned her husband's cannon when he was killed in the Battle of Fort Washington in 1775.

So to be honored with an award named for such a hero is worth noting.

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, received the Margaret Cochran Corbin Award from the Daughters of the American Revolution last weekend in Washington, D.C.

More from an academy release:

General Johnson was the keynote speaker and one of several individuals honored by the DAR for their contributions to the nation's defense during DAR's National Defense Night as part of its 124th Continental Congress.

The Corbin Award honors the memory of Revolutionary War heroine Molly Corbin, who stepped up to man her husband's cannon when he was mortally wounded in the Battle of Fort Washington in 1775. She became the
first woman pensioner of the United States military in 1779.

The award pays tribute to women in all branches of the military for distinguished military service. General Johnson is the first woman to lead a Department of Defense service academy. She has also held numerous command and operational assignments since graduating from the Academy in 1981.

"It is a tremendous honor to receive the Corbin Award from the Daughters of the American revolution," said General Johnson. "Molly Corbin was one of our country's first warrior heroes, and the DAR has helped preserve her memory and valor with this award. I seek to uphold the honored legacy of American heroes like Molly Corbin."

National Defense Night also included awards to several other individuals, including retired Col. Lee Ellis, a former POW and author who spoke at the Academy's 2013 National Character and Leadership Symposium; Diane Carlson Evans, president of the Vietnam Women's Memorial Foundation; and J.R. Martinez, actor, author, motivational speaker, spokesperson and former U.S. Army soldier who served in Iraq in 2003.

The DAR is an active and vibrant women's service organization focused on promoting historic preservation, education and patriotism. DAR's Continental Congress is a time-honored tradition held in the nation's capital as its annual national membership meeting, and drew 3,500 attendees this year.

The DAR has been a supporter of the Air Force Academy for many years, and sponsors annual academic awards to the top cadets majoring in History and Mechanical Engineering.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Homeland defense mission scrubbed

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 11:29 AM

Soldiers' well-being is the focus of a local foundation that used to zero in on national security and defense issues. - MARK LEWIS
  • Mark Lewis
  • Soldiers' well-being is the focus of a local foundation that used to zero in on national security and defense issues.
Three years after terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, locals saw an opportunity. With financial backing from the El Pomar Foundation, the National Homeland Defense Foundation was created in 2004, based in Colorado Springs.

The foundation was envisioned as a professional and trade organization for national security specialists and issues, and it hosted an annual National Symposium on Homeland Security and Defense staged at The Broadmoor.

Well, forget all that. Now, the group has repurposed itself into a completely different outfit called Peak Military Care Network, which will provide services in support of soldiers and airmen and veterans. Those include advocacy, behavioral health, crisis intervention, workforce readiness and employment, reintegration, substance abuse, domestic violence, education and so on.

This means it will abandon the homeland security aspect, says Rebecca Tonn with Blakely + Co., which issued a news release as follows, on behalf of the newly named organization:
Established in 2004, the National Homeland Defense Foundation was formed as a non-partisan, nonprofit forum for the United States’ response to the presence of terrorist threats.

Since its inception, NHDF has provided a public forum for the discussion and presentation of various homeland defense and security issues and solutions. The Foundation also hosted the annual National Symposium on Homeland Security and Defense for United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) for nearly a decade, as well as supported educational events, including the National Security Innovation Competition and Thought Leadership Conference.

In 2012, NHDF expanded its services and changed its mission to include a broader scope of work and provide support for defenders of the homeland – military veterans and first responders.

As part of that new mission, NHDF reached an agreement with Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments to establish and operate Peak Military Care Network, which provides services to and partners with other agencies to meet the holistic care needs of military members, veterans and families in the Pikes Peak region.

Since then, supporting Peak Military Care Network activities has become the focal point of the organization. To reflect that transition, NHDF’s Board of Directors decided to change NHDF’s name to Peak Military Care Network (PMCN).

“NHDF has contributed greatly to Homeland Security matters over the last decade, with lasting impacts to the nation,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson, former President of NHDF and Chair of the PMCN Board of Directors.

“The NHDF/PMCN Board sees addressing the needs of our military, veteran and first-responder community as a critical focus moving forward. By changing our name to the Peak Military Care Network, we will be able to concentrate our identity and efforts on the collaborative and coordinating work of PMCN in order to serve our homeland defenders and their families.”

At least one in four residents of the Pikes Peak region is a former or current member of the military, making the area home to one of the highest concentrations of service members in the nation.

PMCN connects the needs of the community’s military service members, veterans and their families to the highest-quality resources by providing a central source for information, navigation and integrated services.

In turn, PMCN’s partner agencies are committed to understanding military and veteran culture and the unique challenges faced by service members, veterans and their families, working together to meet the needs of individuals and families to provide support for the military and veteran community.

About Peak Military Care Network
Peak Military Care Network supports collaboration among community, military and veteran service providers to assist those providers and service members, veterans, and their families in identifying resources and streamlining access to services to meet their needs. Connecting individuals and families to information and the highest quality resources, PMCN facilitates seamless transitions between service providers by providing a central source for information, navigation, and integrated services.

PMCN and its partner agencies offer a broad range of information and assistance to support the whole individual and family, including advocacy, behavioral health, child welfare and family support, crisis intervention, education, employment and workforce readiness, medical and physical health, social services, and transition and reintegration.

In addition, PMCN provides training and information-sharing opportunities to partner agencies to ensure community-based agencies understand the unique needs of the military and veteran community and are aware of available resources (including military and VA services) to keep individuals and families out of crisis and improve health and well-being.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Few AFA graduation tickets available

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2015 at 12:39 PM

  • Courtesy U.S. Air Force Academy

If you want to see this year's Air Force Academy graduation ceremony, you'd better move quickly. Only 600 tickets will be available. Here are the details from a news release: 
Approximately 600 free, reserved-seat tickets for the Academy's Class of 2015 Graduation Ceremony will be available Thursday. Tickets must be picked up by the general public in person at:

* The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance offices at 102 S. Tejon Street, Suite 430, in downtown Colorado Springs, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
* The Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce offices at 166 Second Street in Monument, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Department of Defense ID card holders may also pick up tickets at the Air Force Academy's Athletic Ticket Office, at the Cadet Field House, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. These ticket locations will be open Monday through Friday, except for Memorial Day.

A maximum of six tickets per person are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets cannot be mailed and there is no will-call at the stadium. Lost tickets cannot be replaced.

Because of increased security measures, individuals picking up tickets in Colorado Springs or Monument will need to provide the following information:

* First and Last Name,
* Date of Birth,
* Driver's License Number and which state the Driver's License was issued in.

Only the person picking up the tickets needs to provide this information. If that individual has a current DoD ID card, they will not need to provide additional information.

The Air Force Academy's Graduation Ceremony is May 28, beginning at 9:30 a.m., in Falcon Stadium and will include a commencement speech by the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James. The ceremony will conclude with an aerial performance by the Air Force Thunderbirds, weather permitting.

Falcon Stadium gates will open at 7 a.m. on May 28. Due to increased security requirements, please ensure you arrive very early as traffic coming on base will be heavy and there may be long lines at the Stadium. All visitors should be prepared to show valid identification, vehicle registration and proof of auto insurance. Vehicles may be inspected upon entry. If Force Protection Conditions change, some scheduled events may also change or require additional security precautions for the safety of all our guests. Any event changes will be announced via local media and the Academies official Facebook page.

If the graduation ceremony is moved indoors due to dangerous weather or security reasons, general public and staff ticket holders will not be able to attend. If the ceremony is moved, notification will go out by May 28 at 7 a.m., via local media and the Academies official Facebook page.

For more information on the Air Force Academy Graduation, visit or e-mail
This year's featured speaker will be Deborah Lee James, the Secretary of the Air Force. 

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Friday, May 8, 2015

USAFA steps up security

Posted By on Fri, May 8, 2015 at 11:48 AM

The Air Force Academy just issued a release stating that nobody will be allowed on the academy's grounds unless they have a Department of Defense ID, although visitors "may be escorted onto base by DoD ID cardholders."

The release states the action comes "in accordance with a Northern Command directive."

Without explaining why, NorthCom spokeswoman Army Maj. Beth Smith tells the Independent that NorthCom did raise the force protection level Thursday night from Alpha to Bravo, which she termed "the new normal."

Bravo is the highest security level directive NorthCom has given in its 13-year history. The command was created the year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A Joint Task Force Carson rifle team fires a 21-gun salute during a memorial ceremony at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. (U.S. Army photo) - SGT. ERIC GLASSEY
  • Sgt. Eric Glassey
  • A Joint Task Force Carson rifle team fires a 21-gun salute during a memorial ceremony at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. (U.S. Army photo)

"We did raise the force protection from Alpha to Bravo last night," Smith says in an interview. "No specific reasons, but more along the lines of we consider this to be the new normal. It was just a prudent measure to mitigate threats that could occur against people, assets, resources or infrastructure."

She said the change in security level has nothing to do with the recent revelation that communications of the bi-national North American Aerospace Defense Command would be moved from Peterson Air Force Base back to the Cheyenne Mountain Air Fort Station, commonly called Cheyenne Mountain. The command was moved to Peterson in 2006-07, but recent concerns about Peterson's lack of resistance to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) could cause military communications to crash. Cheyenne Mountain is resistant to EMP.

There are four threat levels: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. NorthCom has never given a directive higher than Bravo, Smith said.

Here's the academy's news release:
In accordance with a NORTHCOM Directive, the United States Air Force Academy has increased security measures. Until further notice, the base is closed to all non-DoD ID cardholders. Visitors may be escorted onto base by DoD ID cardholders. Visitor access for official events will be permitted on a case-by-case basis.

Please monitor the USAFA Facebook page and website for more information on future events scheduled to be held at the Academy. Additionally, DoD ID cardholders can anticipate delays when entering the installation, and there may be traffic back-ups near both of the Academy's North and South Gates. As a matter of DoD policy, we do not discuss specific security measures. However, these measures are in place to ensure the safety and security of USAFA personnel, cadets, and assets.

USAFA leadership asks the public and military personnel to remain vigilant and if you see or hear anything suspicious, please contact Security Forces at (719) 333-2000.
As for how visitors will be handled at the upcoming academy graduation, academy spokesman Meade Warthen says via email: "As you can imagine, the situation is very fluid right at the moment. We'll be issuing updates on access as we get closer to graduation."

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Army to head for PCMS training ground

Posted By on Thu, May 7, 2015 at 4:50 PM

A Stryker vehicle maneuvers during training at National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Ca., last summer. - SPC. RANDIS MONROE
  • Spc. Randis Monroe
  • A Stryker vehicle maneuvers during training at National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Ca., last summer.
Later this month, if you drive Interstate 25, you might see a convoy heading for the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site for exercises. It will be hard to miss, because about 600 vehicles — 300 of them Stryker armored vehicles — will form a train from Fort Carson.

According to a news release, the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, and some associate units will be in the convoy May 26 to May 30. The exercise will last two weeks and is called Operation Raider Focus.

The post has coordinated with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Police and local law enforcement and municipal agencies, the news release said.

More from the release:
Convoys will consist of no more than 30 vehicles per group, and 30-minute spacing is planned between each convoy. Convoys will travel at 40 miles per hour and utilize two routes.

Convoys will travel on Interstate Highway 25, U.S. Highway 160, U.S. Highway 350, State Highway 115, U.S. Highway 50, U.S. Highway 87, State Highway 167, and State Highway 10. Due to the increase in vehicle traffic and slow speed of the convoys travelers may experience delays.

No travel will occur on I-25 through Pueblo during the hours of 7 - 9 a.m. and 4 - 6 p.m., which is during peak rush hour time periods.

Increased dust and noise levels from this exercise can be expected during this time period, due to training and vehicle traffic throughout the training area. The training includes day and night blank-fire exercises incorporating aircraft and military members from the Army and Air Force.

The purpose of Raider Focus is to prepare Soldiers for any possible mission should the unit be called to support any contingency around the globe. During the exercise, crews will engage simulated targets using different scenarios to build team cohesion and ensure they are proficient in their skills. The unit will redeploy to Fort Carson in mid-June.

Noise complaints should be directed to the Fort Carson Public Affairs Office at (719) 526-9849.
The PCMS has been controversial with surrounding landowners concerned about over-use of the grasslands.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fort Carson bans 139 people from entering

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 5:35 PM

A statue of the Indian fighter Kit Carson stands at the entryway to Fort Carson. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A statue of the Indian fighter Kit Carson stands at the entryway to Fort Carson.
More than 100 people have failed the background check to get into Fort Carson, according to data provided by the post in response to the Independent's inquiry.

In fact, 139 of the 3,334 people checked from Jan. 5 to March 31 flunked the verification with the FBI's National Crime Information Center. The post couldn't say if those 139 are contractor employees, visitors or vendors. Only 10 have been given waivers so they can have access passes, the post says via email.

So come Friday, there might be some employees who don't show up for work. No matter, Carson says the checks are necessary to secure "the safety and security of our Fort Carson family, as well as the visitors to our installation."

"These measures will deter criminal elements from gaining access to our installation," the email said, "which could potentially put our community members at risk."

Here's the news release sent out Monday reminding people of the practice of checking anyone out before they're admitted to the post.
Fort Carson implements new access control policies and procedures Friday, as directed by the Secretary of the Army. All visitors without a federal or DOD identification card (ID) entering the installation will be affected by the new changes.

Visitors, without a federal or DOD ID requesting one-day access to the installation will need to report to the Visitor Control Center (VCC), located at Building 6012 at Gate 1, with a valid state or federally issued photo ID (driver’s license if driving), vehicle registration and proof of insurance (if applicable). All personnel must have a valid reason for accessing the installation.

Members of the golf course or on a bowling league who do not have the proper identification must work through the respective management of those establishments to have the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sign the Fort Carson Form 2036 (Request for Fort Carson Access Control Card).

The Form 2036 must be digitally signed with a Common Access Card by a military sponsor, not hand signed. For organizations on post, such as the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and Defense Commissary Agency that don’t have CAC cards, provisions have been made in advance with these organizations to obtain passes for those who need them.

Visitors requesting unescorted access will be required to undergo a FBI National Crime Information Center III (NCIC) check prior to accessing the installation. Visitors with issues such as an outstanding arrest warrant, recent felony conviction or are listed on the Terrorist Screening database will not be allowed access and, if appropriate, will be turned over to legal authorities.

Visitors who are receiving a Fort Carson access pass may not escort other non-DOD ID cardholders onto the installation. Each visitor in the vehicle must go through the NCIC check to gain access.

The NCIC check helps law enforcement officers apprehend fugitives, locate missing persons, recover stolen property and identify terrorists. It also assists law enforcement officers in performing their official duties more safely and provides them with information necessary to aid in protecting the general public.

The VCC is open daily from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visitors requesting access outside the VCC hours must go to Gate 3 off of Academy Blvd. to request a pass. Questions may be directed to the VCC at (719) 526-2332 or the Security and Access Control Office at (719) 526-5543.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

NORAD returns to Cheyenne Mountain bunker, sorta

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 1:13 PM

NORAD will move some of its assets back into the mountain, which was placed on "warm stand by" about eight years ago. Everything old is new again? - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • NORAD will move some of its assets back into the mountain, which was placed on "warm stand by" about eight years ago. Everything old is new again?

Ever since a contract with Raytheon was announced last week, stories have been coming out about the return of the North American Aerospace Defense Command inside the Cold War bunker built for it in the 1960s.

NORAD moved operations out of Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station seven or eight years ago, under the command of Adm. Timothy Keating at the time. Keating came under scrutiny, because he made claims the move would save money, and others disagreed.

The Independent wrote about the issue several times back then, as did I when I was at the Gazette at that time. The big hubbub was over Peterson Air Force Base's vulnerability to electromagnetic pulse disruptions, which is now the very reason communications are being moved back into the mountain. Go figure.

Back in 2006 and 2007, I obtained a classified report that raised serious questions about that and other vulnerabilities at Peterson, which sits next to Colorado Springs Airport's runways.

As recently as 2011, the government was investing money in the mountain.

Here's one finding by the Government Accountability Office from 2008: "The GAO recommends that the Secretary of Defense ... reevaluate the full spectrum of security vulnerabilities associated with moving the NORAD Command Center and related functions from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson Air Force Base."

All of which sent me back to my files and the piles of reports from nine years ago, the upshot of which were concerns over the security of Peterson. Well, now we know there must have been issues, considering the government has signed a contract with Raytheon for $700 million to upgrade communications inside the mountain.

Whatever happened to that guy, Keating, anyway? Turns out he retired with his military pension in 2009.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Springs VA clinic one of the worst in the country for wait times

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 11:43 AM

PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Outpatient Clinic at Colorado Springs - U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Outpatient Clinic at Colorado Springs

Despite consolidating medical services for military veterans into a shiny new building, the Lindstrom Outpatient Clinic "ranks near the bottom nationwide at getting them in for health care within 30 days, according to government data," reports the Associated Press.
More than 10 percent of the appointments at the clinic from Sept. 1 to Feb. 28 took at least 31 days to schedule, missing the Department of Veterans Affairs’ timeliness goal. That was the highest in the state and the 12th-worst out of 940 veterans outpatient clinics and hospitals reviewed nationwide. ...

“It’s a chaotic mess,” said 69-year-old Kenneth Thibodeau of Colorado Springs, a Vietnam-era veteran who gets VA treatment for diabetes, blindness and an amputated leg.

He said he likes the care he gets from the VA – when he can get it.

“I think the scheduling part of it is the biggest problem right now,” said Thibodeau, deputy chaplain for the Colorado American Legion. “When I make an appointment or something, I get a phone call the day before saying they have to reschedule, and you don’t get a reason.”
The Gazette talked to 39-year-old Air Force veteran Ken Ulin, who said he had experienced such a hard time obtaining medical help he "tried to overdose right in front of my psychiatrist at the VA," the paper quoted him as saying. "That didn't work out well. But I wanted to get their attention."

One of the problems cited by the VA in the daily newspaper's report is one that's not going to change any time soon: "We have baby boomers as docs," said Denver VA spokesman Dan Warvi by way of explaining physician shortages, "and they are all retiring at the same time."

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Lamborn backs 'so help me God' bill

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 4:16 PM

Who's to guess why religion issues dog the academy when the chief icon is a chapel? - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Who's to guess why religion issues dog the academy when the chief icon is a chapel?

We first reported on the "so help me God" issue in November 2013, sparked by a billboard sponsored by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Now, a congressman from Texas, Sam Johnson, is trying to force the phrase at the Air Force Academy, and our representative, Congressman Doug Lamborn is one of three co-sponsors who've already signed on. The other two are Pete Olson and Pete Sessions, both from Texas. All are Republicans, as you might suspect.

The full story can be found here. The story starts like this:
A Republican congressman has introduced legislation that would force cadets at the Air Force’s Academy to say “so help me God” during their oaths every school year. He said the legislation is necessary because Americans don’t have “freedom from religion.”

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) said the bill, called the Preserve and Protect God in Military Oaths Act of 2015, would protect the religious freedom of American troops.

“Our Constitution’s very First Amendment protects every individual’s freedom of religion. But our servicemen and women who protect our county with their lives are seeing that freedom under fire,” he said in a statement. 
Well, we had to check in with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder, Mikey Weinstein, to get his take. Though he's been inundated with media calls, Weinstein took time to send us this statement:
Congressman Sam Johnson should be tried for treason and sedition. The astounding ignorance and bigotry displayed by his brazen presentation of this proposed wretched sectarian legislation is literally mind-ripping. Not only does it viciously savage United States constitutional religious protections afforded all American citizens, including members of the U.S. military, it also provides an unparalleled bonanza of propaganda for our fundamentalist Islamic enemies such as Isis, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Additionally, it enrages our Islamic allies and utterly desecrates and destroys military unit cohesion, good order, morale and discipline. The United States Congress should at the very least censure this constitutionally derelict villain and universally despicable human being.
Lamborn wasn't happy about "so help me God" being made optional by the academy, leading him to issue this statement about the matter on Nov. 15, 2013:

In a semi-related matter, which scores even higher on the wackiness meter, there's this story out of California from some deranged lawyer who wants to mount a ballot measure that would allow gays who practice sodomy to be shot in the head. Here's a story on the International Business Times website about it.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Army unveils two environmental studies

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 at 2:51 PM

The Army has completed the Environmental Impact Statement that examined intensified use of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site about 150 miles southeast of Colorado Springs.
  • Sgt. Felix Acevedo
From a summary of the report provided by the Army:
Training activities in the Final EIS include electronic jamming systems, laser target sighting, tactical demolition, unmanned and unarmed aerial reconnaissance systems, and light unmanned ground vehicle training. In terms of training infrastructure, PCMS would establish two new drop-zones, and restricted airspace directly over PCMS for use during periods when training activity poses a hazard to non-participating aircraft. The restricted airspace would be activated as required by training scenarios. Among the changes made since publication of the Draft EIS are the removal of aviation rocket (2.75 inch) and flare training, removal of two of the original eight demolition sites from the proposed action, and reduction in the maximum charge per blast at one of the six remaining sites. 
For a little background on the project, you can read this previous blog. Or read the entire report below:
Not 1 More Acre!
, a group that opposes more usage of PCMS, issued a news release on Friday:
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the only law that requires the government to assess every type of impact from its proposed actions, analyze alternatives, describe proven measures to mitigate the impacts and disclose all of that to the public for serious review before the government action is approved.

That level of assessment was not conducted or disclosed in DOD's latest EIS for Piñon Canyon Manuever Site, Colorado and so its plans and impacts remain hidden from the public now, just as in 2009, when DOD's PCMS Transformation EIS so failed NEPA's required analysis and public disclosure that it was thrown out by a federal judge.

Urging people across the country to submit comments, Jean Aguerre of watchdog group Not 1 More Acre! said, "Our goal is to re-establish the rule of law that requires public disclosure of government plans and rigorous analysis of impacts before their plans are approved, and to CLOSE Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site to end military takeover of Southeastern Colorado and Northern New Mexico."

To comment, email by April 10 to, or mail your comment to the Fort Carson NEPA Program Manager, Directorate of Public Works, Environmental Division, 1626 Evans Street, Building 1219, Fort Carson, CO 80913-4362, or call (719) 526-4666.


In a related matter, the Bureau of Land Management has completed its scoping report on the Army's application to conduct High Altitude Mountain Environmental Training over BLM land southwest of Colorado Springs.

We wrote about that as well here and here.

During the public comment period, the BLM got 239 written comments; of those, 215 came from the public 14 from non-profit organizations and 10 came from county, state and federal government entities.

Concerns included noise, sense of place, wildlife, livestock and pets, impacts to private property, fire potential, safety hazards, recreation, economic impacts and lower property values, land use, questions about the need for the training and other training areas, including PCMS, biological resources, and so on.

The full report can be found at this link by clicking on public scoping report. The next step is the BLM writing an environmental assessment, about which public comment will be sought.

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Friday, March 6, 2015

UPDATE: Groups wait years for USAFA records

Posted By on Fri, Mar 6, 2015 at 4:21 PM

An artist's rendering of the academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development under construction, a facility that Weinstein wonders is appropriate for an institution he says violates the honor code. - COURTESY AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
  • An artist's rendering of the academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development under construction, a facility that Weinstein wonders is appropriate for an institution he says violates the honor code.

Air Force Academy spokesman Brus Vidal admits the academy's FOIA office is overwhelmed and behind. He says one person staffs the office, which was buried under 75 requests at one time. However, by reassigning existing personnel to help work through the backlog, that's been reduced to 22 requests, he says, noting that one request alone, from MRFF, resulted in 11,000 pages of records.

—-ORIGINAL POST FRIDAY, MARCH 6, 2015 4:21 P.M.——-

The Independent has waited 18 months for a response to a Freedom of Information Act records request in the past from the Air Force Academy. But the experience of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is even more frustrating.

MRFF has waited since 2011 for a response from the Academy to its 2011 records request for all records it has on him, his wife, his daughter-in-law and two sons, and also an MRFF client, David Mullin, who sued the Academy in federal court for discrimination and won a settlement.

Now, the Academy tells the group the final batch of records are to be released in June in this letter:

2013_01717_F_2n_Interim_Reply_FOIA_Case.pdf MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein is understandably vexed, if vexed is a strong enough a word to use to describe the frenzied state Weinstein can reach when dealing with the Academy.

"The Air Force Academy is built on, 'We will not we will not lie, cheat or steal,'" he says, quoting the Academy's honor code "I've been asking for this for years under federal statute. It is now years later. The Academy is lying about the process, they are cheating by violating the statute and they are stealing, both time and justice. In the 11 years I've been fighting them, this is the worst example of lying, stealing and cheating I've seen."

Not being one to sit and take it, Weinstein has had a law firm fire off a letter to the Air Force Secretary, complaining of the erroneous assertion by the academy that MRFF withdrew its request, a pattern and practice of unreasonable delay, and the inappropriate application of an exemption that allows records to be withheld to balance a person's right to privacy against the public's right to know.

Here's that letter:

We've asked the Academy for a comment and will update if and when we hear something.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Local firm lands VA cemetery contract

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 10:36 AM


After a process that lasted nearly four years, a consortium of businesses that includes William Guman & Associates Ltd. of Colorado Springs has been chosen to plan and design the Veterans Cemetery southeast of Colorado Springs.

Guman is a former Springs City Councilor, serving from 1993 to 2001. He also served on the city Planning Commission.

Here's the news release from his company:
William Guman & Associates, Ltd., a long-time Colorado Springs based landscape architecture and land planning firm, has been selected by the Veteran’s Administration as project landscape architect to develop construction documents for the long awaited National Cemetery to be constructed in El Paso County. Guman is part of the AES Group team that was awarded the primary contract to plan and design the cemetery. AES Group, Inc. is a certified service disabled veteran owned small business (SDVOSB) with primary offices in Parker, CO. Land planning for the new cemetery will be handled by The L.A. Group, PC, Saratoga Springs, NY, which has planned more than forty national cemeteries throughout the country.

Bill Guman, a licensed landscape architect, is pleased that there will be local representation on the National Cemetery’s consulting team hired by the VA.

“We think it was a wise decision for the VA to retain the services of prime consultants who are familiar with the unique requirements of our area,” said Guman. Design criteria for which the VA expressed much concern included long-term sustainability of the cemetery’s landscape. “The VA recognized that this region does not have the water resources that many other national cemeteries have to help keep them green for much of the year,” Guman said. He acknowledged that it will be challenging to design a drought tolerant landscape for the cemetery that is still attractive and in keeping with the National Cemetery Administration’s (NCA) design guidelines.

“There is an expectation for a national cemetery to always appear lush and manicured,” said Guman. “But Southern Colorado is a high plains desert and is obviously different than Arlington, Virginia” he added.
“The design team will be looking at xeric landscape alternatives that require far less water and care than acres of bluegrass lawn found in most national cemeteries.”

The El Paso County National Cemetery master plan will provide for up to for 125,000 grave sites across the 375 acre Rolling Hills Ranch property the VA purchased earlier this year. Schematic documents for approximately 50 acres of the property are being planned to support 10 year burial projections (approximately 15,300 gravesites) for the Phase 1 build out. The project will include pre-placed crypts, columbarium niches and in-ground cremains pre-placed urn crypts. The completed design will include a main entrance area, roadways, irrigation, utilities, landscaping, signage, committal service shelters, memorial walls, combined public information center and administration building, maintenance building complex, honor guard building, parking, public restrooms and temporary structures necessary to operationally support an early construction turnover of a limited number of gravesites. The VA’s estimated cost of construction for this project is between $28 million and $50 million dollars.
The project will be designed to LEED silver certified standards and meet all Federal Energy and Sustainability mandates. Planning and design of the new National Cemetery is anticipated to commence in December, with construction scheduled to begin in late 2015. Early turnover scheduling for Phase 1 should allow interments at the cemetery to commence in 2017. The National Cemetery’s Rolling Hills Ranch site is located on Drennan Road, approximately one-quarter mile east of Peterson Air Force Base and Marksheffel Road.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Springs fire center proposal 'has it all'

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2015 at 12:18 PM

A slurry drop made during the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012. - COLORADO SPRINGS PROPOSAL
  • Colorado Springs proposal
  • A slurry drop made during the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012.
As expected, the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance emphasizes its proximity to military assets in its application to be designated as the host community for the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting. ("Lofty proposal," Jan. 28, 2015)

The partnering opportunities in our community are unique and extensive. The region hosts key military assets like US Northern Command that is responsible for all Department of Defense response to civil authorities, including in cases like large fires, as well as key military aerial firefighting capabilities, such as the 302nd Air Wing’s Modular Aerial Firefighting Systems (MAFFS) and Fort Carson’s helicopter fleet, that have responded to many fires in Colorado.
In addition, the proposal, obtained by the Independent through the Colorado Open Records Act, notes "a multitude of high tech companies" are located in Colorado Springs, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Exelis, Hewlett Packard, Booz Allen Hamilton, Harris Corporation, and Quantum Corporation.

The proposal, one of six received as of last Friday's deadline, notes that if the COE is located here, it would be "minutes from the largest expanse of WUI in the state. A region that has felt the scope of the threat like no other and is anxious to partner with the CoE."

The Springs' response offers office space, without charge, in the east terminal of the Colorado Springs Airport, and El Paso County offers the former Sheriff's Headquarters at 101 W. Costilla, owned by the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department.

The RBA's Andy Merritt, who headed up the report, had this to say in an interview:

"I haven't seen all the other proposals, so I can't compare proposals. What makes us stand out is that we provide the full scope of everything they would need to be successful and achieve their vision of being the world leader. We have very strong technology-focused industry that would be critical to helping do the technology and innovative components. We have strong university capabilities from a variety of institutions. We have significant military capability that has tremendous experience in fighting fires and would offer opportunities in partnership to test those capabilities and try to do some things they haven't done before."

He also noted the proposal offers office space at the airport and off-site, or both, and that Colorado Springs has the largest urban interface of anywhere in the state.

Lastly, he adds, "We've got the greatest amount of firefighting experience in WUI [wildland urban interface] fires amongst our professional firefighters of anywhere in Colorado. We just think when you look at all the different components you need, we have it."

The proposal also boasts that positions to be hired for the COE would command lower salaries than in Denver or Fort Collins. For example:

Colorado Springs entire proposal:

A decision by the state is expected at the end of the month.

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