More than 220 members of communities surrounding Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield attended Monday’s community listening session at Club Stewart, with most responding to rumors that the installation could lose up to 8,000 soldiers.
Elected and business leaders from Liberty, Long, Bryan and Chatham Counties heard three possible scenarios about changes to the force structure at Stewart-Hunter and provided input to the Army’s Programmatic Environmental Assessment for its force-structure realignment.
The event was led by Brig. Gen. John Hort, 3rd Infantry Division deputy commanding general-rear, and Col. Kevin Gregory, U.S. Army garrison commander for Stewart-Hunter.
Hort began the session by telling guests what the event was not about.
“This is not about (Base Realignment and Closure) or sequestration,” he said. “It’s about force restructure.”
Hort said the Army is mandated to reduce its active force by 80,000 troops by the end of fiscal year 2017. The 2010 high of about 570,000 active-duty soldiers would be reduced to about 490,000. He said that will reduce the Army’s 45 combat brigades to 37.
In addition to reducing troop levels in Europe and abroad, the Army is looking at where else it can cut the force structure to achieve that goal, he said.
Hort confirmed three possible scenarios are being considered by the Department of the Army for Stewart-Hunter, including the loss of 8,000 soldiers. Stewart-Hunter’s troop strength could be allowed to stay at its current level, or the installation could gain up to 3,000 more soldiers.
Hort said the Army was conducting listening sessions to allow communities to provide input to senior leaders regarding decisions they make about a specific installation and how those decisions could impact the surrounding communities.
Gregory summarized the criteria the Army would use in deciding what installations would lose or gain troops as the strategic value the installation has to missions and the quality of life of soldiers and family members at that installation.
Hort and Gregory listed the features about Stewart-Hunter they feel make it one of the most important Army installations, including its size and having a large runway, port and railhead nearby for rapid deployment.
“Except for Fort Bragg (N.C.) and its 82nd Airborne Division, I can’t think of any other installation that can get out the door as fast as we can,” Hort said. “We are the premier power-projection platform.”
While explaining the size of the Army’s brigade combat teams, Hort said the 3rd ID’s three armor combat brigades consist of about 3,700 soldiers, with two brigades on Stewart and one on Fort Benning. He said 3rd ID’s one infantry combat brigade consist of about 3,200 soldiers.
He said the possible loss of 8,000 soldiers would equate to the loss of more than two armor brigades, while the possible gain of 3,000 soldiers would equate the gain of nearly one infantry brigade.
Several community leaders spoke about quality-of-life issues that they feel make Stewart-Hunter the favorite duty station for soldiers and their families, repeatedly mentioning Stewart’s selection for the Army Community of Excellence Award five times in the past six years.
Representatives from Chatham and Bryan County talked about their support for the installation, its soldiers and their families. Most of those who spoke were from Liberty County, including elected and business leaders and members of the chamber of commerce, city and county development authorities and planning commission.
“Economically, if we were to lose a large number of (soldiers), it would have a significant impact on the community,” said Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, who noted the county still was recovering from the 2009 loss of the 5th Brigade that businesses prepared for. “Losing (those soldiers) would be like losing a part of your family. I would hope the Army’s leaders would take a look and Stewart-Hunter. (Other installations) can’t do what we can do here. We’re the best post in the Army.”
Gregory said Stewart-Hunter leadership would send the comments and concerns of the community to the Department of the Army. He said he hoped to hear a response by mid-summer.