By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald

Some local leaders are certain the Greater Killeen-Fort Hood area’s economy will stay strong despite a large number of deployments this summer and Killeen Independent School District budget cuts that eliminate more than 200 local jobs.

Fort Hood is the area’s largest economic engine, with KISD coming in second.

The military installation is estimating the number of soldiers stationed at Fort Hood will drop from 48,000 to about 25,000 this summer because of deployments.

KISD is looking at a $28 million budget shortfall for the 2011-12 fiscal year, because of the state’s budget shortfall, estimated between $15 billion and $26 billion.

Despite what could be seen as a loss of local spending money, Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce President John Crutchfield said the local economy will be able to withstand the blow.

There may be “little isolated patches” of troubled businesses, Crutchfield said, but for the most part, this portion of Central Texas has gone through this before.

“We have been through (the deployments) before, and it just part of being a military community,” he said.

The area is better off during large deployments now than it was 10 years ago, Crutchfield said, because it appears that more soldiers’ families are staying in the area, he said.

Retired Col. Bill Parry, executive director of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance and a former Fort Hood garrison commander, agreed with Crutchfield about the deployments.

“One of the things that we track is school enrollments, and the data we are getting … is that the families are staying here,” Parry said.

This area has become very supportive of the military and their families, and that helps keep spouses, children, other family members, and even military retirees in the area, Crutchfield said.

The deployments will not keep the soldier count down for long, Parry said.

“It is just a dip at the end of the 1st (Cavalry Division’s) deployment, but then other units start coming back,” Parry said. “That bottoms out for about a two-month period.”

The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and its 4,000 troops as well as the 1st Cavalry’s 4th Brigade with its 3,500 soldiers should be returning to Fort Hood by late summer, Parry said in a previous Herald article.

The Greater Killeen-Fort Hood area has also survived these large deployments several times in the last decade, Parry said. In the last three years, Fort Hood has deployed 10,000 soldiers at once as well as 30,000 soldiers.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is that we are winding down our operations in Iraq and that means Fort Hood will have fewer deployments in Iraq, and if we probably have many more soldiers in the future than we had in the last eight years,” Crutchfield said.

When it comes to KISD cuts, Crutchfield said he believes the KISD Board of Trustees and the district’s administrators are being proactive.

In plans announced about two weeks ago, the district said it will likely cut 202.5 positions from its payroll, along with other money saving measures.

“Any time you have 200 people lose their jobs, you certainly feel for those folks,” Crutchfield said.

However, since the local economy has proven to be “very robust” there will be other local opportunities for those individuals, he said.

“Hopefully, this is a one-time event for us,” Crutchfield said.