By Minnie JonesJune 6, 2008
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- A near-capacity crowd of 250 attended the first in a series of Base Realignment and Closure Town Hall meetings May 28 at the Army Community Service center.
Col. Wendy Martinson, garrison commander, Fort Sam Houston, and Mike Hartman, base transformation officer, hosted the event.
The meeting, an open forum led by Martinson, was the first in a series of meetings that were given across Fort Sam Houston to inform people about what can be expected during the BRAC transformation and construction.
Hartman opened his briefing by introducing himself to the crowd and by saying "that the growth and transformation of Fort Sam Houston in the next three to four years is going to be very exciting."
BRAC 2005 recommendations to expand Fort Sam Houston in becoming the Department of Defense's premier medical training base, the home of Army Installation Management Command Headquarters and the management of family support activities and community programs are coming to fruition.
And, it is not only about BRAC but there is another force behind Fort Sam Houston's transformation - the Army Modular Force Initiative.
The Army Modular Force Initiative involves a total redesign of operational Army units into a larger, more powerful, more flexible and more rapidly deployable force while moving the Army from a division-centric structure to one built around a brigade combat team.
In a dynamic, informative and sometimes entertaining PowerPoint presentation, Hartman walked the audience through the BRAC Transformation and the Joint Base initiative affecting Fort Sam Houston.
The Town Hall meeting was three-fold and coordinated to ease some of the concerns of the Fort Sam community. The meeting covered Fort Sam Houston's transformation under BRAC 2005, highlighted BRAC construction that is speckled throughout post and its affects on day-to-day living, and finally some solutions and suggestions on traffic and parking constraints once the construction begins.
With an estimated population growth of around 21,000 military and civilian personnel that includes an additional 4,100 students rotating through Fort Sam annually, the expansion will be a great economic boost to Fort Sam Houston and its surrounding communities.
However, there will be some growing pains and adjustments that will have to be made for day-to-day living on Fort Sam Houston.
As with any huge transformation, this one set to be completed by 2011 comes with a magnitude of construction. Currently there are four major construction zones sprinkled throughout the post with numerous others on a smaller scale going on. Because of this maze of construction, the garrison commander, along with other senior leaders, has devised a well-thought-out strategic plan for Fort Sam Houston to make this situation as painless as possible.
Work zones referred to as construction bubbles will be erected around each construction site. These sites will be enclosed by fencing, which will physically separate the base populace from the construction and its workers. These sites will be fully enclosed and considered off-post locations.
In order to make this plan successful, the post has decided to reopen some entry gates and relocate others, such as the gate located on Binz-Engleman Road, which will be pushed back on post, closer to the Fire Station.
One of the major construction and massive renovation projects is the consolidation of the Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base and the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston.
This union of the two military hospitals will be known as the San Antonio Military Medical Center, or SAMMC. Wilford Hall will become SAMMC-South and will be a large ambulatory care center designed to meet the outpatient medical needs of Lackland AFB and the surrounding communities.
The BAMC, SAMMC-North, will undergo a 250,000-square- foot renovation that also includes the construction of a 5,000-car parking garage. This renovation will be one of the biggest growing pains coming out of the BRAC initiative for Fort Sam Houston, which will include a west and east addition, an emergency tower and a central energy plant.
Under the proposal, SAMMC-North will become the inpatient tertiary care center providing all inpatient care as well as all trauma and emergency medical care. While under renovation, BAMC will remain open and caring for patients as usual. Then the question becomes, while the facility is being renovated, where do close to 5,000 BAMC employees park their cars'
In the plan, there have been several sites placed throughout Fort Sam Houston proper for designated parking lots. This will require BAMC employees to be shuttled back and forth from the medical center. This maneuvering will probably be one of the biggest hurdles affecting the day-to-day lives of post personnel, because hospital employees will not be allowed to park at BAMC.
Although it is estimated that approximately 10,000 Family members will be coming to Fort Sam Houston, there are no plans to build additional Family quarters on post. Post officials are working with the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Board of Education to work out some of the growth issues that will affect the surrounding communities.
Also slated under BRAC is a new post exchange, a renovated commissary, a multi-screen movie theater, a new athletic center and a shopping area set in an atmosphere that will be likened to The Shops at La Cantera. There is also a plan to build a Marriot Staybridge Suites hotel, an extended-stay hotel that will operate a 695-room hotel on Fort Sam.
In addition, Camp Bullis, located off Loop 1604, is also part of the Fort Sam Houston BRAC transformation and will have a field medic-training center constructed to support the Medical Education and Training Center students. Also, a new fire station is slated for BAMC.
Because of all of the construction, Fort Sam Houston expects a parking shortage, so officials are exploring the option of VIA service in the future.
Last item on the agenda at the meeting was speaker Blake Berlin from VIA Metropolitan Transit. During his presentation he gave details about the VIA Vanpool program and encouraged people to take advantage of the program offered by VIA that allows commuters to share their commute with co-workers.
Martinson opened up the floor for questions. She concluded the meeting by thanking the audience for taking an interest in what is going on at the installation. "It can be overwhelming to think of all of things that are going on, but you are part of something that is really important for Fort Sam Houston," she said.
Martinson commented that the Town Hall meeting went well, "We hold these meetings to make people more informed. People who are more informed have a better tolerance and a better understanding of what's going on around them," said Martinson.
For more information regarding the BRAC transition, visit the Fort Sam Houston Base Transformation Office Web site at www.samhouston.army.mil/bto/default.asp.