FORT RILEY — This post historically has been critical to the Army mission, but it’s been just as vital to the economic and overall health of the Flint Hills region that surrounds it.
On Friday, movers and shakers from Fort Riley’s neighboring communities gathered at its Mission Training Complex to be briefed on Campaign Plan 2020 – a detailed strategic plan outlining how Fort Riley can move forward with its regional partners.
“This is where I think we should go,” Maj. Gen. Paul Funk, the fort’s commanding general, said Friday to a room packed with area community leaders. “This is our best shot.”
Campaign 2020 builds off a similar plan developed in 2009 for 2015.
Following his presentation, Funk spoke to the media about what messages he believes are the most important for the 2020 plan.
“I hope that they’ll see that we have world-class facilities and we’ll attract world-class partners to the region,” he said. “That we’ll be able to hire top-notch professionals from around the world that want to come to this central Flint Hills region, and be part of this phenomenal community that we have here.”
One of the first steps in improving Fort Riley’s facilities, Funk said, is building better infrastructure and roads around the post to help it expand and lessen traffic impact.
While speaking to community leaders, Funk specifically pointed to traffic near the new Fort Riley Middle School on First Division Road.
Funk said he’s afraid a student could be injured — or worse — while crossing the street at peak traffic hours.
Funk also said he’d like to see the Kansas Department of Transportation help ease the burden on Interstate 70 and the busier access gates in Ogden and Junction City.
“We need to get expanded just to get the traffic off the major highway,” he said.
Another point Funk stressed was seeking partnerships in communities that can help Big Red One soldiers exiting the Army to capitalize on skills they that could be applied to civilian jobs.
As for civilians, Fort Riley and its neighbors need to attract more people with all types of health-care skills to the region, he said.
“It’s not just the mental health care providers,” Funk said.
“We need health care providers. We need to bring into this region top-notch professional services, which we have here , but we need to expand the network.”
Although previously announced cuts to the Army are expected to decrease Fort Riley’s strength by 1,200 to 1,700 soldiers in coming years, Funk said the post is still growing and still needs more service providers.
“Fort Riley’s got 6,000 more soldiers than it’s ever had before,” he said. “That puts some load on the network. So the more people we have here, the better off the care’s going to be.”
Opportunities for utility providers are expected to increase, too. By 2016, Fort Riley is expected to privatize its utility services.
“It’ll be good for all the communities,” Funk said. “But specifically here, we’ve had some power problems on the base – 52 major outages last year –—and it’s because of our growth.
“It’s because of our growth and how rapidly we’ve been able to expand Fort Riley — and now we’ve got to be able to get the infrastructure.”
The installation also is expected to grow by adding 42,000 acres to its current 12,000 acres of conservation easements around the base.
That’s good news to anybody kept up at night by what Funk referred to as “the sounds of freedom.”
“While we try to limit the impact, we make no bones about the fact that we’re into the training business here at Fort Riley,” he said.
Training and mission readiness — two of Fort Riley’s strengths, according to Funk — are identified in Campaign 2020 as being among the installation’s keys to success.
Though the plan lays out Fort Riley’s possible path to future success, it remains adjustable, Funk said.
“What’s great about a strategic plan — and having a road map along the way — is we built in indicators so that we can adjust along the way,” he said.
“And that’s why I was able to take it from 2009, update it to 2015 and now roll it forward, so that if we hit our marks or if something changes, we’ll be able to adjust.”