Reporting on his participation with the Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas summarized their recent trip to Washington, D.C., as successful, even though the general officers his group spoke with at the Pentagon gave no assurances that Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield will be excluded from any decision to cut U.S. forces.
“I wanted to find out if there is any possibility that (Stewart-Hunter) might lose troops due to the drawdown,” Thomas said, noting the Dec. 1-2 trip included himself, Friends of Fort Stewart Executive Director Paul Andreshak, Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver, The Heritage Bank President Jimmy Floyd, Sikes Group President Clay Sikes and former 3rd Infantry Division and Stewart-Hunter Commander Lt. Gen. William Webster, who now is a retired Liberty County resident.
“I reminded (U.S.) Rep. Jack Kingston and (U.S.) Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson that we have the capability to take on more troops without spending a lot of money. We are the consummate projection platform on the East Coast with a state-of-the-art training complex and more than 286,000 acres that are ideal for maneuver units. Plus, we have the capacity to receive additional units,” Thomas said.
In addition to Georgia lawmakers, the group also talked with Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, former 3rd ID and Stewart-Hunter commander, who now is serving as deputy chief of staff, G-8, director of force development; and Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, deputy chief of staff, G-3, director of force management. The mayor and Webster reminded the congressional and military leaders about Stewart-Hunter’s strengths — that Stewart is the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi; that Hunter has the Army’s longest runway east of the Mississippi; and that the port of Savannah is the third-largest port on the East Coast. They told them that Stewart already is 75 percent capable of receiving a “full-up” brigade combat team and 100 percent capable of receiving three additional armor battalions and artillery batteries.
Thomas and McIver provided updates on county and civic initiatives and projects funded through the Office of Economic Adjustment. Floyd and Sikes provided updates from a business perspective. And Andreshak provided a tri-fold marketing printout and an update on efforts by the Friends of Fort Stewart to persuade Georgia legislators to support the Army’s Interstate Education Compact.
Georgia lawmakers said they would continue to petition the Army not to cut troop strengths from Stewart-Hunter and to push for an additional brigade combat team, Thomas said. The Pentagon officials, however, were careful not to give specifics, he said.
“Something is going to happen,” Thomas explained. “There are going to be cuts, but they don’t know where. Strategies for going forward during this drawdown haven’t been decided on, so they can’t be sure. In my opinion, they’re looking at cutting some headquarters units — but that’s just Jim Thomas speaking — nobody said anything about that.”
He said the generals know they have to regenerate their forces and work within a reduced budget. With Fort Benning’s proposal to annex 80,000 acres in Stewart County now shelved, the mayor said the 3rd ID’s 3rd Brigade could be moved to Stewart to give Benning more room for growth. While that is a possibility, he said, it also is possible that some brigade combat teams isolated from their division headquarters might be cut from the Army’s overall active-duty strength.
“Personally, I don’t think they’re going to cut forces here at Stewart,” Thomas said. “As I said, we’ve got a power platform that can go anywhere in the world, and to cut that wouldn’t make sense. It wouldn’t be rational.”
Thomas said the Friends of Fort Stewart’s next planned visit to Washington will be in the spring. In the meantime, he said, they will continue to invite key officials to visit Stewart-Hunter, particularly those who’ve never been stationed here and aren’t aware of the installation’s value.