Thursday, March 20, 2014

Army looks for other options as Forest Service scales back helicopter zones

Within six months, Fort Carson hopes to have its new Combat Aviation Brigade on base and in full swing, with about 117 helicopters executing landings and takeoffs in the Pike and San Isabel national forests. But while the community has largely embraced the new unit's arrival, a few wonder if allowing approximately 350 pilots to fly hundreds of missions in tinder-dry forests is a good idea. The U.S. Forest Service says no wildland fires have been ignited by sparks from a helicopter crash. But tell that to Lance Williams, who lives just south of Manitou Springs in Crystal Park, a hamlet at 9,000 feet. Williams considers the "more or less constant" whop-whop-whop of helicopters overhead a warning of impending catastrophe. "The fire threat makes training in this area very questionable," he says. Conditions have changed dramatically in the 36 years since the Army obtained its permit to land helicopters amid the forests: The population has nearly tripled, more homes lie close to the forests, and the forests themselves have been desiccated by drought. In addition to the fire threat, the Forest Service also is worried about the impact of expanded helicopter training on wildlife and other forest users, and has taken steps to discourage Fort Carson from relying too heavily on the forests. Carson has generally followed the Forest Service's wishes, but the Army asserts in documents that High Altitude Mountain Environmental Training (HAMET) is crucial to preventing crashes in places such as Afghanistan. Though the forests remain its preferred training site, the Army has applied for a long-term lease of Bureau of Land Management land southwest of Colorado Springs, extending to north of CaƱon City. That application will kick off a National Environmental Policy Act process that will include public comment and analyze the impact of takeoffs and landings from 43 sites...more

Why would they move a Combat Aviation Brigade to Ft. Carson if they haven't secured areas for them to practice?  According to the FY 2013 Base Structure Report the Department of Defense owns 28 million acres.  There's nowhere in that huge land area where they can practice HAMET? And here's another thought:  Stay the hell out of Afghanistan.

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