Fort Bliss commander addresses city's image problem
With many of El Paso's top leaders in attendance, new Fort Bliss Commanding General Sean MacFarland gave his first State of the Military Address Thursday.
MacFarland was very candid in his remarks, talking in his more than half an hour address about Fort Bliss' changing mission as home of the 1st Armored Division Combat Team, the threats of what could be even more sequestration and what he called El Paso's image problem.
He began his address with a video talking about all Fort Bliss has to offer in terms of national defense.
"Armored brigade combat teams are like friends," he said. "When you really need one, it's too late to make one. And it's important for budgeteers and policy makers to understand that armored forces like the 1st Armored Division are relevant in all types of conflict."
MacFarland then segwayed into Fort Bliss' biggest threat, continued budget cuts via sequestration. As bad as the budget situation already, he said it could get even worse.
MacFarland talked a lot about El Paso's image problem, which becomes an image problem for Fort Bliss. He said unfortunately when a lot of soldiers think of El Paso, they think of Juarez or the new FX series 'The Bridge,' which he said is not doing El Paso any favors in that department.
"It's just what we don't need," MacFarland said. "In addition to unfounded fears of violence, many people think that there is a language barrier here and of course, we know, there isn't, so we need to overcome these misperceptions together."
He said it is affecting recruitment to Fort Bliss, which could affect the Department of Defense's perception of the city and post.
"We need the cream of the crop to come here to Fort Bliss," MacFarland said. "But they're not going to if they don't realize that we have good schools and all the other amenities and attractions of any other major city in the U.S."
"He really wants to bring El Paso and Fort Bliss together," said El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser. "We need to elevate ourselves to the next level and within the next four years that is part of our mission."
"We really come to the defense of El Paso when misinformation causes us losses and I think that's what unites the community," said Bill Blaziek, CEO of the El Paso Convention and Visitor's Bureau. "We're fighters and we're gonna come out on top."
MacFarland also touched on Borderland school districts, urging them to hire the spouses of Fort Bliss soldiers if they are qualified and to make sure the curriculum doesn't put the children of soldiers behind if they transfer elsewhere.
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