Army announces details of troop cuts, says they could expand
WASHINGTON — Fort Benning, Fort Hood and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson are the hardest hit posts in the Army’s plan to significantly cut its force, losing more than 9,000 jobs between them.
On Thursday, the Army released more details about its plans to eliminate 40,000 active-duty military positions, leaving a force of about 450,000. About 17,000 civilian jobs will also be cut. While some reductions will be through attrition, soldiers and civilians will lose their jobs, Army Director of Force Management Brig. Gen. Randy George said during a press briefing at the Pentagon.
“These are incredibly difficult choices,” he said.
The cuts are due to the Budget Control Act of 2011, which aimed to reduce defense spending. If there is another round of automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, the Army would be forced to reduce their ranks by an additional 30,000 soldiers.
The Army must give 90 days’ notice to Congress about any bases facing cuts of more than 1,000, and there is the possibility that Congress would make changes to the plan.
George would not say how he thought the cuts would affect the Army’s readiness to respond to threats, but said further reductions would constitute a “significant risk.”
“I think everyone would agree these are tough cuts,” he said.
Georgia will be the second-most affected state, behind Texas, with 4,349 soldiers cut from Fort Benning and Fort Stewart.
“I am demanding answers from the Department of Defense on how they are justifying these troop cuts in Georgia,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, said in a statement after learning of the planned reductions. “We cannot afford to reduce our military readiness at a time when the threats to our security here at home and throughout the world are growing at an alarming rate.”
Fort Benning’s losses were due in large part to an Army decision to convert the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division to a smaller battalion task force. The Army also plans to restructure the 4th Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division at Elmendorf-Richardson into a battalion task force.
“Along with thousands of Alaskans, I find this decision devastating, far beyond what it means to our state economy but what it also means to America’s defense,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a statement. She said the cuts in her state jeopardize “our military capability and stretch in the Pacific at a time when we don’t want to weaken our strength in that region.”
Critics agree that the cuts would leave America unable to respond appropriately to international threats.
“Any conceivable strategic rationale for this cut to Army end-strength has been overturned by the events of the last few years from the rise of ISIL, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Ebola crisis, and more,” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said in a released statement.
But some Democrats blamed Republicans for the cuts.
“Sequestration and the Budget Control Act, which are responsible for slashing the defense budget, exist because the Republican party held our economy hostage and threatened to default on our loans,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Sue Walitsky, a spokeswoman for Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, told the Baltimore Sun that the spending caps should be lifted.
“All of our federal agencies, military included, need certainty and reasonable budgets that enable them to carry out their missions on behalf of the American people and not yearly budget gimmicks,” she wrote in an email before the cuts were detailed. Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland will lose 126 soldiers, or 5 percent of its current personnel.
For some states, Thursday’s announcement came as a relief.
The Army had considered eliminating two brigade combat teams and the 25th Infantry Division headquarters at Schofield Barracks, which would have meant the departure of nearly 16,000 soldiers, according to a report in the Honolulu Advertiser. Instead, only 1,214 soldiers will be cut.
“The Army reiterated the importance of the Pacific today when announcing the impacts of their force structure realignment and the impacts on Hawaii,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“Through our collective efforts we have been able to protect the vast majority of the soldiers here in Hawaii,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. “... We are relieved that the worst-case scenario did not occur.”
Here are the six bases losing the largest number of soldiers:
◾ Fort Benning, Ga.: 3,402, or 29 percent of its current personnel.
◾ Fort Hood, Texas: 3,350, or 9 percent.
◾ Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska: 2,631, or 59 percent.
◾ Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington: 1,251, or 5 percent.
◾ Fort Bliss, Texas, 1,219 soldiers, or 5 percent.
◾ Schofield Barracks, Hawaii: 1,214, 8 percent.