Fort leadership sees future growth opportunities

Garrison Commander Col. James (Whit) Wright talks about the future goals of Fort Huachuca to members of the military and business communities

SIERRA VISTA - As the nation continues to face political uncertainties and external threats from other parts of the globe, Fort Huachuca stands ready to face any future challenges.

That was the message delivered by Col. James (Whit) Wright, the installation’s Garrison Commander, to members of the military and business communities this week.

Speaking at the Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Luncheon, Wright said there had been a fundamental shift in both world affairs and domestic politics and that leaders must learn to get comfortable with uncertainty.

“Fort Huachuca has a key role in that,” he said. “We’re facing persistent external threats from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. We have a tumultuous information environment thanks to social media and the increased speed of communications. We have declining budgets and a decrease in personnel.”

With those challenges in mind, the fort is currently going through an extensive planning process to help align its resources and funding priorities.

Support of the army’s missions will continue to be a prime focus, with around 8,000 students graduating in 2016.

Describing the installation as an “incubator”, Wright said, “We are encouraging innovation and ensuring both people and technology reach their maximum potential.”

In a nod to the Fort’s ongoing commitment as a community partner, Wright applauded the city of Sierra Vista’s branding strategy, launched in 2015 and which included the tagline “Extraordinary Skies, Uncommon Ground”.

“That really captures the essence of Sierra Vista and when I look at the core competencies of the fort I think they are tightly bound in that slogan,” he said.

The colonel said work is ongoing to expand the capabilities of the post’s extraordinary skies, which have allowed it to become a center of excellence in the field of unmanned aerial vehicle and pilot training.

“Our workforce is part of the competitive advantage we have,” he said. “We have the right people to make an effective and efficient use of our airways. We have the extraordinary skies that allow us to do the kind of work that makes us the pillar.”

The fort’s uncommon ground, he added, comes in the form of the desert basin that provides “awesome training opportunities”.

Moves to further secure the border by the federal administration may also provide areas for growth, Wright added.

“The border is getting more attention and I think there are opportunities out there, whether that be through a Department of Defense entity or assisting the Border Patrol,” he said. “I think we are under utilized in certain areas.”

A federal hiring freeze, however, is causing challenges for the fort in some areas, in particular in filling childcare, security guard and traffic controller posts.

“The timing is unfortunate, to say the least. We are concerned about some specialty skills and accumulating risk over time,” Wright admitted, adding the fort is taking advantage of an “exception to policy” where government departments can request a waiver.

But that is a long and tedious process whereby the Secretary of the Army has to sign off on each application.

“It has to be done position by position, which may seem ridiculous,” Wright said. “But at least we have a process, although we aren’t hiring anyone.”

With funding continuing to be a challenge – Wright said the fort receives about 60 percent of what it actually needs to sustain the facility – work has started on an installation master plan.

The goal is to reduce the post’s footprint, he said.

“We want to identify what we have on the installation, who owns its, and could there be a better use,” he explained. “We are assuming risk (through lack of funding) and there is only so much we can do. So we’ll be looking at what is mission critical, as well as health and safety priorities. We have some tough decisions ahead, but we’re getting at it.”

As past garrison commanders have done before him, Wright acknowledged the ongoing community partnerships that have helped Fort Huachuca to support military missions and to successfully navigate previous Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) processes.

“I’ve never seen anything like Team Huachuca,” he said. “We all have our budgetary disadvantages, but there are opportunities to be had and we are in the market for those opportunities.”

Kevin Peterson, president of the Huachuca 50, an organization that focuses on facilitating the growth of post missions, said he was encouraged by what Wright had to say.

“A lot of the key words he used are what we define as our priorities,” he said. “The Huachuca 50 is very positive about the future of Fort Huachuca and we are getting ahead of BRAC. There will probably be another BRAC in three or four years, but we are highly prepared. I think everyone is in sequence regarding the priorities.”