GUERNSEY-The face of Camp Guernsey will begin to undergo some significant changes in the near future as plans unfold to build a new Regional Training Institute and the supporting elements to facilitate training today’s military personnel.
“There’ve been a lot of changes in the military since the 40s,” says Col. Richard Knowlton, Camp Guernsey’s full-time commander. “The average age of our buildings is 60 years, and in order to train today’s soldiers, we have to make changes to meet the training requirements. That will require more classroom space, more sleeping quarters, a large dining hall and kitchen, a building for medical facilities, an auditorium and additional offices for administration.” The entire project will extend over a number of years and the price will run somewhere around $31 million by the time it is entirely completed.
With the limitations of the physical layout of the camp, the open land directly west of the camp’s secured entrance on U.S. Highway 26 has been selected for the building site. Knowlton commented, “In a way, we have the same issue the Town of Guernsey has in being a bit landlocked. Because we have to access water and utilities, we are limited as to where we can build these additional facilities and that is why we wanted to use the land that presently houses a mobile home court on Guernsey’s east side.” He went on to say that the changes for security following the events of September 11, 2001 require specific setbacks when building facilities near public areas and that created more limitations, essentially shrinking the area they could actually utilize for construction.
But once the plan to use that land was made public, the Guard found themselves in the middle of a controversy because the court residents would be asked to move off the property with few options for relocation in town. In addition, the costs of moving created an additional burden and many became unhappy and vocal about the Guard’s intentions.
Knowlton said the Guard’s desires were not to intentionally disrupt lives but they do have a mission to train and those needs must also be met.
After some extended discussion at higher levels, the Guard opted to change some of their building design to accommodate saving the majority of the mobile home court. “We felt it was the right thing to do,” said Knowlton and although there are still several tenants that will need to move within the court, most will be able to remain where they are.
Knowlton acknowledged that the choice of words used by the Guard at a public meeting held this last summer may have been a bit misleading to say “nobody would have to move.” But Knowlton also said the residents were contacted directly the day following the meeting and the situation was more fully explained.
Regarding some other issues the Guard has been involved in, Knowlton said all of the investigations of the summer’s Sawmill Canyon Fire have been completed. “Unfortunately,” said Knowlton, “the next step is the claims process and we are not allowed to discuss the investigation findings due to that process.” Knowlton said the claims are actually handled at Fort Carson, Colorado and it would be up to the claims department as to whether or not the findings would or could be released.
Three investigations were done to find the exact cause and circumstances of the fire that was deemed to have been started by a Colorado unit that was training on the north firing range. The fire began July14th and burned over 14,000 acres before it was contained. It was the second significant fire of the summer in the local area. The Guernsey State Park Fire occurred just a month prior and caused the evacuation of several areas and at one point, threatened the town of Guernsey.
When asked about the decision to fire in such dry conditions, Knowlton said Guard members conduct a “Composite Risk Management” to determine the level of danger in nearly everything they do. “It’s a standard procedure,” said Knowlton, “and the determined level dictates who is authorized to make a decision.” Ultimately, Knowlton has the final say as camp commander if it becomes necessary.
Knowlton said the Guard goes through a substantial fire mitigation process prior to range use that includes cutting back trees, cutting fire breaks, and removing any fuels such as weeds or grass that would provide fire fuel. Controlled burns are also conducted in early spring to help mitigate the risk of fire. “I wish the public could really see the steps we take to minimize the risk of fire because it is an extended process,” said Knowlton. “Sometimes, regardless of what we do, it can still happen and the bottom line is that we want our soldiers adequately trained.”
In an effort to increase communication between Camp Guernsey and the community’s residents, Camp staff and Guernsey’s Economic Development Coordinator Bruce Heimbuck are working together to establish a Community Advisory Group. Heimbuck said they are working on finalizing a charter, and members would be selected to represent a cross-section of not only but Platte County as well. Knowlton said he believes the group could really improve the communication and provide a way to get more information out to the general public. Knowlton said it should also be a way to air concerns of the public. “We are a public resource,” said Knowlton, pointing out that the Guard is currently working to maintain wildlife habitat to benefit hunters and fisherman. They are also working with the local trap shooting club to relocate their operation.
Despite the fact that the leadership of the Camp is changed every two to three years, Knowlton said he also hopes to develop an architecture that can provide continuity, regardless of the constant change in camp commanders.
“I truly hope that increased communication will improve the relationship between the town and the Guard,” said Knowlton. “We really do want to be good neighbors.”