(MILITARY TIMES) FORT BLISS, Texas — The expansion and transformation of this former training post has hit high stride, with brigade complexes and a division headquarters sprouting in areas that just months ago were barren desert.
The transformation, primarily inspired by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission recommendations of 2005, involves a projected outlay of nearly $5 billion and a 300 percent increase in the post’s population.
Clark McChesney, director of the Team Bliss Base Transformation Office, said the Army has committed $3 billion for the project so far and is on schedule to complete major portions of the expansion in the 2012-13 time frame.
“The Corps of Engineers is committing $2 million per day to construction companies and turning over at least one building per week to the installation,” McChesney said.
“To give an idea of just how big this is, the Corps of Engineers will be spending $1.1 billion on military construction here this year,” said Col. Edward Manning, Fort Bliss garrison commander.
“By comparison, the Air Force will be spending slightly less than $1 billion for all its military construction over the same period.”
As construction booms, the post is experiencing a sharp increase in population, which officials estimate will by 2012 total 33,400 soldiers in five combat brigades and 58,000 family members.
When expansion began in 2005, there were 9,300 soldiers permanently based at Fort Bliss, along with 15,300 family members.
The post also had a large student population, about 2,100 at that time, but that is quickly eroding with the ongoing move of the Air Defense Center and School to Fort Sill, Okla.
While the post will have 4,000 family quarters when the expansion is done, Army officials estimate 17,000 families will live off-post in the surrounding community of El Paso, a large metropolitan area with more than 1 million inhabitants.
Most of the Fort Bliss population growth is related to the phased relocation of the 1st Armored Division from bases in Germany.
At Fort Bliss, the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team of 1st AD, the 44th brigade in the Army’s nearly complete arsenal of 45 brigades, officially goes on the active duty rolls Aug. 16.
The 45th brigade in the objective maneuver force will be the 2nd BCT of 1st AD, a heavy brigade scheduled to activate here Sept. 16, 2010, McChesney said.
That unit, recently returned from a 15-month deployment in Iraq, cased its colors and reflagged as the 170th Infantry Brigade during a ceremony July 15 at Baumholder, Germany.
The 2nd BCT colors will be brought out of storage next summer as the brigade is rebuilt from scratch.
Until recently, the Army planned on building a maneuver force of 48 brigades, but now is focused on 45 brigades. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that is a more prudent goal given the Army’s operational commitments and the strain on soldiers and families of keeping existing brigades manned and in the deployment cycle for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Results of the Quadrennial Defense Review, due late this year or early next year, could shift another brigade to Fort Bliss if the Defense Department reduces the brigade inventory in U.S. Army Europe from four to two, as originally envisioned under BRAC.
In the current stationing plan, 1st Armored Division headquarters will relocate from Wiesbaden, Germany, to Fort Bliss in May 2011, according to McChesney.
That plan calls for the division to have five maneuver brigades, including a combat aviation brigade, which today is flagged as a unit of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.
The CAB is scheduled to reflag here in the summer of 2011 and occupy new barracks, brigade headquarters, hangars and other aviation support structures in the Biggs Airfield sector of Fort Bliss.
The division headquarters and other brigade complexes will occupy previously unused land in a desert expanse called East Fort Bliss.
Each of the brigade complexes will cover 300 acres, have more than 30 structures and serve as the workplace and barracks for up to 3,800 soldiers.
A brigade complex is about one mile wide and half a mile deep.
About 9,000 of Fort Bliss’ soldiers will work at facilities on the main post, where a new shopping mall called Freedom Crossing, an expanded commissary and other services, will be located.
The remaining 24,000 soldiers will work in new facilities at Biggs Airfield and East Fort Bliss, connected to the main post area and its services by a network of roads and overpasses.