Retired Col. Bill Parry, executive director for Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, speaks Thursday evening at the Central Texas Home Builders Association’s general membership meeting in Harker Heights.

By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS — The number of troops deployed from Fort Hood will soon reach a two-year high, retired Col. Bill Parry told area home builders Thursday, but there’s evidence that their families — and their dollars — will stay put.

Parry, head of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, addressed the Central Texas Home Builders Association at its Harker Heights headquarters.

“Families are staying here, and that’s what we want,” Parry said.

He based his assertion on military child enrollment within the Killeen Independent School District, which has only grown since 2004, despite the rise and fall of Fort Hood troop levels over the same period.

He attributed the trend to the community’s support of military families.

“The Army is doing a better job of taking care of families, but the Central Texas community has stepped up and taken care of families.”

Sometime this summer, Parry said, the number of deployed Fort Hood troops will reach 25,000 to 26,000, leaving about 23,000 at home. About 21,000 are currently deployed. The new peak still isn’t projected to be as high as Spring 2009, when the number of deployed Fort Hood troops swelled to about 31,000.

Troop levels will begin rising again by fall, with the return of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and 1st Cavalry Division elements from Iraq.

Fort Hood’s total troop assignments hovers at just under 50,000 soldiers.

The number of military retirees in Killeen, Harker Heights and Nolanville has also grown by about 16 percent since 2008.

Parry, a Belton resident, served as Fort Hood garrison commander from 2001 to 2004.

Parry now serves as the area defense alliance’s executive director.

The nonprofit organization promotes the importance and sustainability of Fort Hood and all defense-related industries, organizations and institution in Bell, Coryell and Lampasas counties. He addresses the Central Texas Home Builders Association annually.

Builders are interested in Fort Hood news and troop level updates because soldiers drive the local market and general economy, association president and builder Trent Dalton said.

“It just kind of helps us plan how many specs to keep on the ground,” he said. “When you know how many soldiers are returning and when they’re returning you make sure to gauge how much inventory you need to have on the ground.”

Redeployment periods can mean lots of movement in the market, Dalton said.

The association has about 200 members, from builders to subcontractors.

From home builders to restaurants, he said, “Everybody profits from soldiers. It’s a trickle-up effect.”

Defense cuts likely

Parry warned that the Defense Department is likely to dramatically cut spending, including its personnel budget, by 2013. He didn’t have any details, but encouraged builders to stay up-to-date on budget negotiations.

He also encouraged the community to watch for news regarding the country’s commitment to Iraq. As of now, he said, all troops are scheduled to return home by Dec. 31. There are rumblings that commitment may be extended, however, he said.

The alliance will continue to advocate for Fort Hood, he said, and the region’s ever-diversifying economy can only put it in a better position to withstand defense cuts.

He pointed to Texas A&M University-Central Texas, which has seen a 17 percent jump in enrollment since 2009, as an example of such diversity.