Part 1 in a 2-part series
"Call the National Guard," has become the mantra when disasters strike.
And geographical dispersion of National Guard facilities across states is just one consideration for a governor to be prepared for an emergency.
To that end, the mission of the Colorado National Guard is to provide its communities, state and nation a ready, reliable, essential and accessible military force, fully equipped for national defense, and defense support to civil authorities.
In order to provide this capability, the Colorado Army National Guard has facilities in 34 strategic locations throughout state. Additionally, the Colorado Air National Guard has four major facilities. While many of these resources are located along the densely populated Interstate 25 corridor, there are also several located in less-populated areas.
"In addition to the critical and traditional role of the National Guard as a part of the community, having readiness centers in communities such as Durango, Alamosa, Sterling and Montrose ensures we provide response capabilities distributed throughout the state," said Army Col. Kevin Kick, director of domestic operations for the Colorado National Guard. "This creates speed, flexibility and efficient response for our communities."
This was noticeable immediately following a tornado in Windsor, Colo., in May 2008. Without hesitation, members of the 137th Space Warning Squadron in Greeley and the 147th Brigade Support Battalion in Boulder responded to the community by performing door-to-door welfare checks and security. In addition, the National Guard Communications Element traveled from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora to provide a centralized communications link for multiple law enforcement and emergency response agencies to connect.
"Although it's very difficult to predict the 'right' place to be when an emergency happens, several factors contribute to the CONG's ability to respond during emergencies," said Kick. "Having readiness centers in communities across Colorado positions us to better fulfill our state mission as a force multiplier for civil first responders who ask for our help."
This practice was most recently demonstrated during the 2012 wildfire season. The Colorado National Guard provided a variety of different resources to five different fires across the state, which twice included the use of the Fort Collins Armory by Type 1 incident management teams. At the height of the fire response, more than 250 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen answered the call from a variety of locations.
"We provide needs-based capabilities from the most logical location in support of the incident management team," said Army Master Sgt. Michael Simco, noncommissioned officer in charge of domestic operations.
To that end, Air Guardsmen stand ready to respond from Buckley and Peterson Air Force bases, Fort Carson and Greeley.
The Army Guard is positioned to respond from 24 readiness centers and armories; six support facilities, including the Central Issue Facility in Golden and the Combined Surface Maintenance Shop in Firestone; two stand-alone field maintenance shops in Rocky Ford and Grand Junction; and two schoolhouses, the 168th Regional Training Institute on Fort Carson and the High-altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum.
Over the past five years, the Colorado Army National Guard has begun or completed construction on 10 facilities projects with an economic impact of $209 million -- including $82 million in direct construction labor wages.
One of the largest construction projects is the new High-altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum. This 101,600-square-foot, graduate-level aviation schoolhouse is the only Department of Defense-approved facility that's specifically focused on teaching high-altitude power-management environmental training to military rotary-wing pilots from around the world. In addition, personnel assigned to the school are also regularly called upon to also assist local authorities in many mountain search-and-rescue missions.
The addition of the 1st Battalion 157th Infantry to the Colorado Army Guard added five new readiness centers to the state. These new facilities not only bring jobs and money into the communities, but also a new community partner: the Guard. New readiness centers have been or are being constructed in Fort Lupton, Grand Junction, Windsor, Alamosa and northern Colorado Springs.
The location for new facilities is determined by a panel of National Guard senior leaders, civic leaders, construction and facilities management personnel, and operations personnel.
"Factors for determining readiness center locations includes geographic diversity -- ensuring we're represented in each region of the state and ensuring we have resources within a short distance of anywhere in Colorado," said Kick. "In addition, we look for high trafficability -- road networks near our readiness centers. This not only ensures access for our larger vehicles, but can facilitate ease of travel to the armory for our Guardsmen."
The newest facility is the Windsor Readiness Center, a 30,715-square-foot facility that is the home of approximately 130 Soldiers of the 1157th Forward Support Company of the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry.
"The Army National Guard is thrilled to be welcomed into the Windsor community and to have a state-of-the-art facility from which we can support the citizens of northeastern Colorado," said Bob Datson, design and project management branch chief. "The building incorporates sustainable materials, geothermal wells, photo-voltaic panels and a drought-tolerant landscape. The U.S. Green Building Council is analyzing the design for potential designation as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum Project. We're confident that this building will become the gateway to one of Colorado’s premier energy parks. "
The Alamosa Readiness Center, which is scheduled to be completed in September 2013, will house two 1,300-square-foot classrooms and a 4,698-square-foot assembly hall that will also be available for use by community members for local events.
"In addition to the Guard’s training mission, the facility is a community resource and is available to local groups at a nominal charge," said Datson
However, the use of facilities by the communities isn't unique to Alamosa, as nearly all CONG readiness centers can be used for a nominal fee. For more information, visit the Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Since the militias first muster in 1636, the National Guard has been a community-based first military responder, laying to rest the concerns of devastated communities and reinforcing the motto, "always ready, always there."
Stories in this series:
Location, location, location: Colo. Guard facilities provide speed, flexible response to community
Keeping the lights on: Technicians, building managers maintain unit readiness