Lawton Fort Sill will benefit greatly in coming years from a new wave of Army transformation, the command team of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Sill predicts.
Garrison leaders work with a master planning team to shape the map for the post’s future, and they’re already looking at how to get barracks ready for an expected boost in troop strength.
As the proponent for counter-unmanned aerial surveillance, Fort Sill will soon become home to a Counter-Unmanned Aerial Surveillance School, according to Fort Sill Garrison Commander Col. Rhett Taylor.
“We’re looking at moving some of the garrison’s services that are in one of the buildings to accommodate that school,” Taylor said. “We’re going through the planning right now of what that school’s going to look like. And it’s not just the school, because you also have to look at the facilities, and those facilities not just for the training, but also on where we’re going to house those students while they’re here. So we’re doing that analysis now and looking for those places on the ranges that’ll best accommodate that training.”
The Counter-Unmanned Aerial Surveillance School will fall under the Air Defense Artillery branch. Meanwhile, the 75th Field Artillery Brigade’s HIMARS battalion — 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery — is about to transform from two batteries with eight High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launchers apiece to three batteries with nine HIMARS launchers apiece. That will bring in around 100 more Forces Command soldiers, so the garrison will also have to make provisions for them.
Over on the training side of post, an upgrade to one of the barracks will probably be completed in the next month or two. Once that happens, 434th Field Artillery Brigade will add an additional Basic Combat Training battalion that will increase its annual throughput of trainees, Taylor said.
“We usually average 19-20,000 Basic Combat Training soldiers a year, and we’re going to increase that by 2-3,000 when we get that battalion here,” the garrison commander predicted.
Taylor said his team put some more effort into this barracks upgrade to make it usable in this time of COVID-19, “so we could have expansion for some of the quarantining that we do now for the basic trainees coming in.”
Meanwhile, one of Fort Sill’s biggest projects – construction of a $59.5 million barracks north of Vessey Hall for the 95th Adjutant General (Reception) Battalion – is inching its way to completion sometime in 2021.
Also, after a seven-year wait, Congress has finally awarded funding for phase two of the Advanced Individual Training footprint for the six field artillery military occupational specialties taught at the Fires Center of Excellence.
“We are in the planning phase of that,” Taylor confirmed. “And actually, we’ve had to go back and forth because some of the designs have changed. But we’ve got it back on, of getting the barracks that we want here.
“I don’t know the exact time we will break ground, but I know we have completed the design and we’ll begin work here, I think in the next year or two.”
Another work in progress is the relocation of Fort Sill’s Military Police Station from its present home in what was once “the New Post Guardhouse” when built in 1910-1911. Taylor said this is part of a consolidation that will put all of the Directorate of Emergency Services’ administrative functions under one roof.
“We have our 911 center that we are putting together in that facility as well, and our military police will be there,” he said.
The garrison’s senior noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Russell Blackwell, waxed enthusiastic over the outlook ahead:
“I think it’s going to be great for our community. As our Army as a whole continues to evolve and to grow and expand, Fort Sill and Lawton are going to be directly impacted by that, as Fort Sill grows in accordance with Army transformation. And I think that a lot of the initiatives that are coming here in terms of housing and in terms of barracks and our ability to be able to partner with our local community is going to be wonderful.”
Taylor also put in a plug for the 2020 U.S. Census currently underway “because that’s important.” He pointed out that the 2010 census brought a lot of money into the Lawton Fort Sill community and Comanche County and helped fund many improvements that he noticed upon his return here after many years away.
“That’s why it’s important that the soldiers and their families, whether they’re living on post or off post, go and complete that census,” he advised.
Response assistants were at the Post Exchange and the Fort Sill Commissary last week and will be back this week to help promote an accurate count for the 2020 census.
“The captains now, that census that they take now will help them when they come back here as a colonel. So it’s very important to look at it that way,” Taylor said.
One of the first things he noticed when he came back to Fort Sill a little over a year ago was “a sign change to Lawton Fort Sill. It’s no longer Lawton and then you’re entering Fort Sill. There’s a bigger sense of community now, and there’s a lot more to offer for the soldiers and the families here in Lawton Fort Sill. And it’s just great,” the garrison commander said.
In addition to redrawing the map for Fort Sill’s future, the garrison team continues to work closely with the post’s senior commander, Maj. Gen. Ken Kamper, in grappling with the endless challenges posed by tiny strands of genetic material too small to be seen with the naked eye.
One question they get asked a lot is, “When are we going to have live graduation ceremonies again?”
To which Taylor replies, “Well, I support the senior commander on that, and that’s Gen. Kamper. And I will tell you, weekly there’s an assessment that is completed by the Fires Center and Garrison on the conditions, how we are, capacity to monitor, capacity to treat and just the positives (for COVID-19) and the location. And we really look at Dallas, Oklahoma City, Wichita Falls, (Texas,) and here, because our soldiers go all over.
“So we’re not ready to make that decision yet, and that resides with Gen. Kamper. And I know it’s an ongoing thing, but we’re here to keep not just our soldiers safe but also the Lawton Fort Sill community.”
Blackwell confirmed that the garrison has “absolutely” been working to keep Fort Sill’s dining facilities safe and healthy for the soldiers.
“The DFACs have specific protocols in place in order to be able to maintain distancing between soldiers who are eating there. A majority of our basic trainees right now are not even actually eating in the DFACs. What we’re doing is drawing the food from the DFACs and feeding them in their unit areas so that the drill sergeants and the cadre there can better monitor and maintain safety protocols that we’ve got put in place,” Blackwell said.
While the world waits for a silver bullet that will stop COVID-19 dead in its tracks, concerts are on hold and it’s uncertain what Thanksgiving will be like this year. But Taylor remains hopeful:
“We hope to have our museums open here soon. I know that’s a highlight,” he said, and added, “On Sept. 26, that’s a Saturday, what we haven’t seen here in the community for a while is a bicycle tour. So we have a Tour de Fort Sill, and we encourage people to sign up, and we have a 27-, a 37- and a 48-mile route. It’s going to start at 6 a.m. at Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area. We’ll start there, and then at 11 o’clock we’re also having an Outdoor Expo (at LETRA) where we’re going to have some vendors and some demonstrations.”
Taylor encourages bicyclists to look at the Fort Sill Family and MWR website and sign up for the event.