By Rose L. Thayer
Killeen Daily Herald

Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, commander of Fort Hood and III Corps, met with the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon Thursday to provide an update of Fort Hood’s presence within the community. He hit on many key issues, including the post’s population changes, last year’s suicides and his time in Iraq.

Cone stressed that Fort Hood and its neighboring cities are partners and are good neighbors who help each other out. He credited Central Texas as the reason why Fort Hood has a higher re-enlistment rate than the Army as a whole.

It is estimated that in the last three years, Fort Hood’s economic impact on Central Texas through things such as salaries and contracts with local businesses was nearly $11 billion annually.

Cone said that 70 percent of Fort Hood’s population — now sitting just above 58,000 — is living off-post.

“The most amazing growth was in southern Killeen and Harker Heights,” he said.

Last year, Cone said, Fort Hood saw more soldiers home than any other year since the wars started. This year, he said the community should expect a dip as deployments continue, but for the population to pick back up as soldiers return this summer.

The percentage of married soldiers at Fort Hood, which had dropped in recent years, is now back up to 57 percent. Cone said that because of an increase in family support groups, more and more families are choosing to stay here during deployments.

“That means families are at home, with their neighbors,” Cone said, which he attributes to the willingness of Killeen and surrounding areas to support the military.

Cone said 94 percent of Fort Hood’s children are in the Killeen and Copperas Cove school districts and that half of all students in KISD are military dependents.

Cone also spoke on the increasing suicide rate among Fort Hood soldiers. In 2010, Fort Hood saw 22 soldiers commit suicide, and Cone said he is looking into any means possible to stop this rising statistic.

“The premise says that combat stress is up,” Cone said. “Yes, we have a PTSD problem, but I’m not sure if it relates to the suicides.”

He said 12 of the soldiers who committed suicide last year had relationship issues, 11 hadn’t deployed in a year and four had never deployed.

For more on Cone’s presentation, including details from his year in Iraq, read next week’s Fort Hood Herald.