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Fort Carson defends live fire training on high fire danger days

Posted: 8:32 PM, May 01, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-01 22:32:42-04

Amid dry fuels, mild winds and low relative humidity, Fort Carson soldiers still practiced their marksmanship at a machine gun range Tuesday afternoon utilizing live ammunition.

Live fire exercises give soldiers the most authentic training possible, according to Second Lieutenant Connor Johnson.

"Simulating training has its benefits, but it is a totally different experience than being out here with the weapons systems they will be using in combat," said Johnson, who serves as a range safety officer at Fort Carson.

The Mountain Post was the recipient of criticism following the Carson Midway Fire back in March, which began during similar training. That fire torched 3,300 acres, in addition to destroying two homes, several outbuildings and vehicles.

Still, the Army is sticking to its guns.

"This is an active deployment year, which means it’s all the more important that they are honed and ready to go," Johnson said. "There are no red flag days overseas, so we don’t take them here. If we can get as close to the realistic training as possible, we’re always going to take that opportunity."

They do take weather factors into account during live training though.

The Fort Carson Fire Department keeps a wildland crew at the range on standby, in addition to a 9-soldier fire detail, all ready to act as soon as a fire ignites.

Sometimes, that response is limited for a number of reasons. A lot of the ranges feature terrain that is not suitable for large fire apparatus, and some of the ranges also contain unexploded ordinance — a major hazard for the Fort Carson Fire Department.

"So, for us providing that support, we need to be on scene to keep the mission going," said Mitch Van Dyke, deputy fire chief for the Fort Carson Fire Department. "So, we can obviously make everybody safe in the positions that they’re in, but get that fire out and continue the training."

But safety preparations for live training exercises actually start weeks in advance with a detailed risk analysis.

"We have medics on site. We have constant communication with range control and other things that we do to make sure that our soldiers are safe," Johnson said.

Crews have also cut the grass and brush levels down range to just inches off the ground — an effort to minimize the risk in an already dangerous setting.

"Between the drier climate and the season and some of the fire behavior we’ve already seen, we want to take those precautions to make sure that we’re basically having the safest outcomes," Van Dyke said.

Fort Carson also tells News 5 they’ve constructed more than 100 miles of fuel breaks since February, by improving existing trails and other labor.