Military

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:

11-15-13_Special_Order_remarks_on_Religious_Freedom_in_the_Military_2.pdf
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
  • 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:
2014-PCMS-Training-and-Operations-Final-EIS.pdf
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 usarmy.carson.imcom-central.list.dpw-ed-nepa@mail.mil, 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.
UPDATE:

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:

MRFF_FOIA_Appeal.pdf
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

screen_shot_2015-03-03_at_8.36.10_am.png


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:
screen_shot_2015-02-11_at_11.27.25_am.png


Colorado Springs entire proposal:

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

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USAFA not claiming victory over sexual assault yet

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2015 at 10:50 AM

Lt. Gen. Johnson: Committed to supporting victims. - COURTESY U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy U.S. Air Force Academy
  • Lt. Gen. Johnson: Committed to supporting victims.
The Air Force Academy led the way among its peer academies for sexual assault reports in the 2013-14 academy year, according to a Department of Defense report released today.

The report says the academy received 27 reports, which was 18 fewer than the previous academic year, but more than the other academies. The Naval Academy received 23 sexual assault reports, eight more than the previous year, and the Military Academy received 11, one more than the previous year.

In a prepared statement, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy's first female superintendent, said:
Each sexual assault case is a tragedy. I, along with every member of the USAFA faculty and staff, remain committed to providing an environment that cares and supports victims, a climate that eliminates sexual assault or harassment of any kind, and an approach that employs every tool available, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to hold perpetrators accountable. These efforts are led by me and supported by our amazing Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, Victim Advocates, volunteer Victim Advocates, Special Victims Counsel and highly qualified medical experts. While the numbers released in this report show progress, we still have a lot of work ahead of us.  
As for sexual harassment, the Naval Academy received 15 reports, the Military Academy, 1, and the Air Force Academy, 4.

Key findings:

— The Air Force Academy saw unwanted sexual contact decline from 11.2 percent to 9.7 percent. Sexual harassment of women went up, from 44 percent to 48 percent. The academy received 27 sexual assault reports — 13 unrestricted and 14 restricted reports. This represents a decrease of 18 reports from the previous academy year, the report said. An unrestricted report is provided to command and/or law enforcement for investigation, while a restricted report allows victims to confidentially access medical care and advocacy services without triggering an investigation. 

— 48% of all academies' women and 10 percent of men indicated perceiving some form of sexual harassment in academic program year 2013-2014.3 Overall, the rates of sexual harassment for academy women decreased from 51 percent in 2012.

— 8.2% of all academies' women and 1.1 percent of Academy men experienced unwanted sexual contact in academic program year 2013-2014.6 This is a decrease from academic program year 2012-2013 in which 12.4% of Academy women and 2 percent of Academy men experienced unwanted sexual contact.

— During academic program year 2013-2014, the academies received 20 complaints of sexual harassment, comprised of 1 formal complaint and 19 informal complaints. The United States Military Academy received 1 formal complaint, the Naval Academy received 15 informal complaints, and the Air Force Academy received 4 informal complaints. This represents an overall increase in reporting of sexual harassment complaints from academic program year 2012-2013, during which the Academies received 11 informal complaints. (According to the report, an informal complaint is an allegation of unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment, made either orally or in writing that is not submitted as a formal complaint. A formal complaint is an allegation of unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment that is submitted in writing to the authority designated for receipt of such complaints.)

— The three service academies received a total of 61 sexual assault reports, nine fewer than the previous academic year. However, unrestricted reports — those that are fully investigated — increased from 29 the previous year to 36 in the 2013-14 year, which the report said means "more victims at the Military Service Academies chose to participate in the military justice process, suggesting greater confidence in the system."

The full Sexual Assault Prevention and Response report is found at this link.




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Friday, January 30, 2015

Army coming to town, cuts on the horizon

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2015 at 4:18 PM

On Tuesday, Army brass breezes into town to conduct a "listening" meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave., about possible budget cuts.

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
  • Department of Defense
The Regional Business Alliance is encouraging citizens to wear green in support of Fort Carson and show up and express support for the post.

Here's an email that went out earlier this week:
The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance Military Affairs Council (MAC) and the Army invite you to Wear green and support Fort Carson!
The Department of the Army is conducting a Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment and is attending listening sessions across the U.S. Find out how you can support Fort Carson in this process on the Business Alliance website, or read more below. Read full news release.
Keep-Carson-Strong_1-27-15.pdf  
Turns out, Colorado Springs is but one of 30 stops for the Army.  Others will take place in Georgia (Fort Benning, Fort Gordon, Fort Stewart), Texas (Fort Bliss, Fort Hood, Fort Sam Houston), Kentucky (Fort Knox and Fort Campbell), as well as at least 10 others states, reports pacifist Bill Sulzman.

His point?

"Sounds like the Army itself lobbying against any cuts by trying to orchestrate 'listening' sessions put on by boosters everywhere they can," he writes via email. "The Army is using taxpayer dollars to lobby locals to oppose any cuts in their area hoping this means that there won't be any cuts anywhere. Using government funds to lobby for more government funds. Military Industrial complex shenanigans."

We asked the Army to respond to Sulzman's impression, and got a long response, the upshot of which is that the Army is very interested in what local community folks think and that, surprisingly, not all communities support their installations.

According to Lt. Col. Don Peters, Team Chief, Operations, Intelligence and Logistics, Army Public Affairs at the Pentagon:
A Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment is necessary to meet the Army’s statutory obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.) and to help inform stationing decisions and potential Congressional notification requirements under 10 U.S.C. § 993.

NEPA requires the Army to consider the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of its actions and proposed alternatives and to involve the public. The NEPA process provides Army decision-makers with information on the environmental and socioeconomic impact that may result from the realignment of Army units, to include the concerns of the public and stakeholder organizations. This analysis allows decision-makers to compare and contrast the environmental impact at sites proposed for unit restationing, force restructuring, and unit deactivations. The PEA process is also designed to inform the public of potential environmental and socioeconomic effects associated with the proposed action and to provide the public with an opportunity to provide feedback.

Environmental impacts associated with the implementation of the proposed action include impacts to air quality, cultural resources, biological resources, noise, soil erosion, wetlands, water resources, facilities, socioeconomics, energy demand, land use, hazardous materials and waste, and traffic and transportation.

While not required by law, the Army will conduct community listening sessions at the 30 installations that could potentially be affected by cuts. These sessions are designed to enable community members to provide their concerns and perspectives, and will help Army senior leaders to make informed, yet difficult, decisions regarding force structure changes. These are not question and answer sessions – we are there to hear the community’s voice, and we welcome anything participants have to say.

These listening sessions are in complete compliance with Federal Law, which specifically prohibits lobbying by Active Duty soldiers.
To add perspective, after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Army built up to 570,000 soldiers. By September 2015, that number will be reduced to 490,000. Due to budget constraints, a further reduction to 450,000 is expected, and sequestration — automatic budget cuts built into a budgeting bill a few years ago — could cause yet another cut to 420,000

Meantime, Sulzman is trying to rally opposition to military expansion, notably its proposal to intensify use of the Pinon Canyon Manuever Site.

The RBA, on the other hand, is trying to combat any reductions, noting any cutbacks could have a devastating impact on the local economy.
 

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Apparently, the U.S. Army doesn't know Fort Carson is using animals in training

Posted By on Mon, Jan 12, 2015 at 4:56 PM

FILE
  • FILE
So this is an interesting note in PETA's long-running war against the military's use of Live Tissue Training (LTT): Apparently, Fort Carson used it last year and the U.S. Army is completely unaware of it.

For those of you who are unschooled, LTT is a way of training soldiers and military medical personnel. Basically, animals — usually goats or pigs — are severely injured (the animals are required to be anesthetized first), then the trainee tries to stop the bleeding and treat the wound. It's long been used because, among other things, it's thought to mimic the stress of the battlefield. But it hasn't always been used properly — PETA has a pretty gruesome video of one such occurrence — and PETA has argued that studies have shown that using simulators actually is a better training tool, eliciting similar stress responses and (this is key) allowing the trainee to work on something with human anatomy. The Department of Defense recently strictly limited the use of LTT.

I wrote about the issue here and here.

So anyway, last week, PETA's director of laboratory investigations, Justin Goodman, wrote me an email saying that he had sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Defense asking for information on any LTT exercises done at Fort Carson in 2014. The U.S. Army Medical Command responded by saying there weren't any exercises. He sent along a copy of the response, most of which I'll reproduce for you here:

5 January 2015

Freedom of Information/
Privacy Act Office (Case 15-00313)

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
Attention: Shalin G. Gala
501 Front Street
Norfolk, VA 23510

Dear Mr. Gala,

This letter responds to your request for agency records documenting the total number of animals used by Fort Carson related to live tissue training, combat casualty training and/or trauma training from January 1, 2014 to present which was submitted to the Installation Management Command at Fort Carson.

Record search results were forwarded to this office from Fort Carson along with your request letter. These were received on 12 December 2014 and processed in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, 5 United States Code (U.S.C.) § 552.

After personnel at Fort Carson made a good faith effort and conducting a thorough search of records using methods which can reasonably be expected to produce the information, no records responsive to your request were located. No animals were used by at Fort Carson for any live tissue training, combat casualty training and/or trauma training.

[...]

Sincerely,

Paul D. Kercher
Freedom of Information/
Privacy Act Office
U.S. Army Medical Command

Problem is, there actually was an LTT exercise at Fort Carson in 2014. I asked Fort Carson's spokesperson about it and she quickly sent me the following information from Fort Carson officials:

"Live tissue training was conducted in late September by the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson. All training conducted is in accordance with established protocols and all applicable federal laws, to include the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 with changes in 1970 and amendments in 1976,1985, and 1990. Protocols for use of animals in training are reviewed, approved and supervised by Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee(IACUC) as required by law."
Whoops.

As expected, Goodman is pretty ticked off about the situation. He wrote this response to me:

Its outrageous and violates DOD policy for Fort Carson to still stab, shoot, dismember and kill animals in training drills when more effective human simulators are available and recognized as superior by the military itself. Other than brave whistleblowers, the only way the public is able to gain some transparency and accountability about these archaic and secretive exercises is through the use of open records laws and its troubling that Fort Carson is unable or unwilling to comply with a simple Freedom of Information Act request on the subject. 

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

USAFA announces new athletic director

Posted By on Tue, Jan 6, 2015 at 11:12 AM

A U.S. Military Academy grad has been picked as the Air Force Academy's athletic director, the academy announced today in a news release. He replaces long-time AD Hans Mueh, who is retiring.
Knowlton: USAFA's new AD.
  • Knowlton: USAFA's new AD.
 The Air Force Academy is pleased to announce it has tentatively selected Mr. James A. Knowlton as its new Athletic Director. Mr. Knowlton served as the Athletic Director for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for the past seven years.

As with any federal hiring process, the new hire is not official until all pre-employment requirements are completed and verified. The Academy remains committed to vigorously protecting the privacy of all who applied for the position - including the other finalists for the position.

Dr. Hans Mueh, the current Athletic Director will retire effective Jan. 31, 2015. The Academy will host a formal introduction and press conference with Academy Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, and the new Athletic Director once the hiring process is complete and the hire is official.

"We were extremely pleased to receive applications from many highly qualified candidates, which following our deliberate process, resulted in an exceptional group of finalists. Mr. Jim Knowlton demonstrated the right level of intensity and experience, while still understanding the unique military culture at our United States Air Force Academy."

"He will balance the demands of the NCAA business with our absolute necessity to win with character. He brings a fresh perspective, but knows the importance of athletics to all of our cadets, not just intercollegiate cadet-athletes. I am confident he will set a culture and climate aligned with our core values. I look forward to him joining our team."

"I am incredibly excited by the honor and privilege of serving as the director of athletics at the Air Force Academy and the opportunity to join an exceptional team and first-class community, on and off base," said Knowlton. "I want to thank Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson and the search committee for their invitation to join the Academy family, and I am eager to
work with the Falcon cadet-athletes, coaches and staff. My family and I are very much looking forward to what lies ahead."

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Army helicopter training meeting draws crowd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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