Sledd announced as incoming HOTDA director
By LYNETTE SOWELL
During the most recent meeting of the Copperas Cove city council, a familiar name was announced as the incoming executive director of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance.
Col. Keith Sledd, who has served more than three decades in the United States Army, will take the helm of the organization which advocates on behalf of Fort Hood and Central Texas communities attached to Fort Hood, come August 1, said current executive director, Ret. Maj. Gen. Kendall Cox. Sledd is retiring as the deputy commander of the 13th Sustainment Command on Fort Hood.
Sledd was present at the meeting He is already acquainted with the council, as well as Copperas Cove itself. Sledd is the husband of Wendy Sledd, director of the Five Hills Scholarship pageant and the director of communications for the Copperas Cove Independent School District. The two make their home just outside Copperas Cove, in Coryell County.
Along with making the announcement about Col. Sledd, Cox also briefed the council on the second quarter activities of HOTDA, which is contracted with the City of Copperas Cove and the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation annually. In addition to Copperas Cove, HOTDA has agreements with other cities, and the organization serves as an advocate for Fort Hood and the local defense industry surrounding Fort Hood.
“I’m going to speak specifically on what’s happening in our army and what’s happening on Fort Hood,” Cox said. Fort Hood’s economic impact on the state of Texas is $35.4 billion, Cox said, and HOTDA anticipates doing another economic analysis this winter.
Cox gave a list of projects HOTDA’s focused on right now, one of which is the submission of a proposal to the state of Texas for a Defense Adjustment Assistance Grant, for which the state has authorized $20 million to be distributed among successful applicants.
HOTDA’s leading candidate for the DEAG program, Cox said, is the land swap between Copperas Cove and Fort Hood. HOTDA has been working with city manager Andrea Gardner and the city on a submission packet for grant funds that would help with that land swap. The application is due to be submitted in fall 2017.
Some of the other HOTDA projects include the joint land use implementation plan, of which Mayor Frank Seffrood participates in the policy committee.
“He has a good understanding on what’s going on and how it pertains to development in the Copperas Cove area and also unincorporated areas of Coryell County, and ensuring that it is compatible with the land use on Fort Hood and doesn’t impact their training.”
Also on the list were a veterans inventory report of solider/family employment, a Texas A&M University Central Texas economic development plan, as well as “BRAC” 2021—base realignment and closure.
Cox talked about the Army’s need to grow its numbers overall, to reach 476,000 by the end of 2017.
“They basically need to grow the army by about 2,000 a month for the rest of the year,” Cox said, adding that the army is offering significant bonuses and eliminating separation discussion at certain levels. He said the Army will not be able to grow those numbers through traditional recruiting/retention. Where Fort Hood is concerned, troop strength has stabilized at 35,636, and has completed its drawdown of 3,350 which was initiated in 2015. He said Fort Hood could see growth in numbers within its brigade combat teams.
The main priority of the Army’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Milley, has been operational readiness of the force, Cox said. In addition to “filling the holes” of manpower, and the need to build up the force, Cox discussed the condition of the Army’s equipment. Many platforms are 20-plus years old and no longer dominate.
“This is a significant challenge when we are competing against near-peer competitors which actually have systems that can defeat our main battle tank. Previously our main battle tank could penetrate theirs without any trouble. They now have armor that can prevent our rounds from going through. And they have created munitions which now can penetrate our armor.
“We have a challenge, but I have trust and confidence in our soldiers that they can compete and win against any competitor,” Cox said.
One of the things the Army has had to deal with is waiting on Congress for more than seven months without a budget, and instead having a “continuing resolution,” to spend what was spent last year. That meant no new starts and no new spending.
Presently, around 5,000 troops are currently deployed from Fort Hood to areas including Kuwait, with forward movement into Iraq, as well as Korea and Europe. He said those numbers will continue to rise as the III Corps headed to Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Kuwait as part of operation Inherent Resolve.
On Fort Hood, readiness is also the number-one priority, Cox said. However, where equipment is concerned, he said many systems need modernization and maintenance.
Fort Hood’s installations need about $2.4 billion to modernize or renovate, with the Army overall needing $11 billion overall. He said there are significant issues with barracks, motor pools and hangars.
Cox did report what he called a “good news story”, that Fort Hood will be receiving $99 million at the end of the fiscal year to fix 10 of their barracks.
“It’ll be a never-ending story after that,” he said. There is also a push to put a “MILCON” barracks project into the fiscal year 2018 budget as well.
He finally addressed BRAC, which he said is “good thing” for the Department of Defense, the Army and also Fort Hood with its excess capacity and capability. But it its current state of facilities and equipment, Fort Hood would not likely fare well right now.
“We need to make sure when we talk to our elected officials at the state and federal levels, send them a message, to find ways to get assistance to Fort Hood,” Cox said, adding that the $99 million MILCON project is a direct result of “beating that drum.”
“Continue to tell that story when you can,” he said.