FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Though more than half the soldier population is deployed to war, an army of another kind continues to toil.
They are electricians, carpenters, truck drivers and painters. Combined, they represent a continuation of the effort started more than two years ago to make room for the 1st Infantry Division's return from Germany.
"It's absolutely mind-boggling the amount of work we are getting accomplished," said Michael Goreham, chief of master planning for Fort Riley.
The goal is to build enough new facilities to handle a projected soldier population of more than 19,000 in the next three years, at least 9,000 higher than the post has had.
That means more barracks, offices, maintenance facilities, hangars for helicopters and other support structures.
"There's a lot of moving parts. There's growth and, with any growth, there's growing pains," said Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley.
Off-post, too, new developments are quickly filling with single-family housing and apartment complexes. The Army figures that close to 60 percent of the new soldiers coming to Fort Riley will have families. There isn't enough room to build all the housing on post, meaning communities as far as 25 miles away have seen a building boom.
The division opened its headquarters to much fanfare on Nov. 16. As indication of how permanent Army officials think the move back to Kansas is, the division's crest — a Big Red One — was placed in ceramic tile in the atrium.
Several hundred soldiers and dignitaries toured the $40 million facility when it was dedicated, seeing firsthand what capabilities the division has hidden behind the limestone facade.
Durbin, who took the division command this summer, describes the headquarters as the premier building of its kind in the Army.
"This is the very best that we have," Durbin said. "It has the connectivity, the digital capacity that we need to be able to train to use that which we use in theater."
If the Army were to decide to deploy the Big Red One's headquarters, Durbin said the command structure could link digitally with their counterparts in Iraq and begin operating and getting familiar with the battlefield long before they ever set foot in the sand. This "deploying before deploying" is designed to improve efficiency.
With more than 8,000 of the 15,000 Fort Riley soldiers deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq, the post is able to get construction completed without working around soldiers.
For example, the runway at Marshall Army Airfield next to Interstate 70 is being rebuilt, while barracks, aprons and taxiways are being constructed. The field is home to the Combat Aviation Brigade, currently in Iraq. When it returns next year, some of its units will be relocated from elsewhere in the United States to Fort Riley.
"That's something that the Army has worked hard to do, to synchronize our build. Although, we may not have everything that that brigade needed when they were here to train, when they come back, they will have brand new facilities," Durbin said. "That's kind of a neat thing, a thank-you for the service you just demonstrated for the last 15 months."
Unlike a year ago, funding for the projects is on track.
Last year, Congress adjourned following the general election without approving the bulk of the money for projects across the Department of Defense, including many related to the return of the Big Red One to Kansas. As such, construction was delayed until the money was approved in early 2007.
Rep. Nancy Boyda, a Democrat whose district includes both Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth, said the funding was part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process. If the money was delayed it would mean decisions to move soldiers out of Germany and elsewhere would have been complicated.
An additional $255 million in construction spending has been approved for Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth, including money for barracks, a child development center and an air support operations complex.
"Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth are key assets in the war on terror, and these projects are critical to their continued success," Boyda said.
Fort Riley is one of 17 installations around the country that the Department of Defense is considering as a location for one of six new brigades, part of the Army's effort to maintain an adequate force in the years ahead and to reducing the burden on the existing Army, which has been simultaneously fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.
If the additional soldiers — roughly 3,500 — are sent here, Durbin says Fort Riley will be ready.
"We have the capacity to execute whatever the Army were to decide," Durbin said.