Guest Columns

COFFMAN: DECISION DISREGARDED WELFARE OF MEN AND WOMEN IN UNIFORM

Penry, HB 1317 shortchange America’s troops

In a recent article in The Colorado Statesman headlined, “On the range at Piñon Canon,” state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, complained that he is being unfairly labeled as anti-military because he supported legislation that permanently bars the United States Army from receiving the additional training areas it has requested in Piñon Canyon.

The Army is now being asked to do much more with less. In response, it has task-organized into brigade combat teams, or BCTs, which are required to cover a much larger battle space than an equivalent number of troops ever were expected to cover. The first full application of this new doctrine is in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, where our ground troops are already stretched thin over a very large and difficult land mass.

The Colorado State Land Board holds sections of land throughout the 100,000 acres where the Army wants to expand in order to conduct the type of combat training it deems necessary for soldiers to meet their predeployment readiness goals. The legislation that Penry co-sponsored, House Bill 1317, is designed to throw a wrench into the United States Army’s ability to expand its training area by placing the tracts of land owned by our State Land Board — which are dispersed throughout the proposed training site — permanently off limits to the Army.

In the article, Penry stated that he supported the measure only because he was concerned about private property rights, should the Army use condemnation to acquire the property. While I respect his sensitivity to the impact that this expansion will have on the ranching communities around the proposed training area, he completely ignores the sacrifices of the many soldiers, who also have families, and who need an area that meets their training requirements in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan.

The Army does two things: It trains to go to war, and it goes to war. The Army must train to meet current and anticipated threats to the nation, and it must train as if it expects to fight. Unit proficiency and individual readiness save the lives of American soldiers in combat. We cannot send units and individual soldiers into battle who will be performing their tasks for the first time.

What is surprising to me about Penry’s position is that the Army had repeatedly stated — before Penry signed on to the legislation as a co-sponsor — that it had abandoned the use of condemnation and was willing to acquire the land through willing sellers or even through a long-term lease agreement. If Penry truly felt that the issue was one of private property rights, he could have simply insisted that the legislation be amended to take effect only if the Army moved forward with acquiring the property through condemnation. Unfortunately, he made no such demands.

My first obligation, as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is to make sure that we have a military that is adequately equipped and trained to defend the security interests of the United States. I fully understand this obligation, having served in both the Army and in the Marine Corps.

Unfortunately, it is obvious by the actions of Penry, who co-sponsored HB 1317, and Gov. Bill Ritter, who signed it into law, that both made their decision on the basis of a political calculation without any regard for the men and women in uniform who serve this nation in defense of our freedom.

Republican Mike Coffman is serving his freshman term as Colorado’s 6th Congressional District representative.