RICHMOND HILL — In an effort to drum up support for Fort Stewart, which is facing threats in the form of sequestration and BRAC, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas spoke to the Richmond Hill Rotary Club on Thursday at the City Center in J.F. Gregory Park.
The post, which has an annual total economic impact of $4.9 billion, stretches over five counties — Liberty, Bryan, Evans, Long and Tattnall — meaning serious cuts would be felt around the region, not just by those in Hinesville, according to Thomas. His presentation indicated that Fort Stewart employs 1,441 Bryan County residents to the tune of $72,422,301.
Originally known as Base Closure and Realignment when it began in the late 1980s, BRAC is the process that the Department of Defense uses to reorganize its base structure to make for a more efficient military.
While Congress currently is opposed to BRAC, Thomas said there are people in Washington, D.C., who are reviewing the issue, and the possibility that a round of BRAC looms large for 2017.
In addition, sequestration could complicate matters considerably.
“Sequestration is an ax that hangs over the Army. If sequestration takes place, the Army is going to lose $50 billion a year. And what does that mean to us? It means the possibility of cuts. The military right now is about 590,000 active soldiers or less. But if sequestration takes place, that will go down to 420,000, which means that Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield and all of the military bases, no one will escape,” Thomas said.
Fort Stewart also faces possible reductions outside of BRAC and sequestration. According to the mayor’s presentation, uniform and civilian personnel will be cut, no matter what. Department of Defense officials repeatedly have warned in congressional testimony and in public speeches that actions outside of BRAC will occur absent a BRAC authorization, he said. Thomas thinks cutting too deeply could do much more harm than good for the Army.
“In all of the other services, they have these big capital things like aircraft and ships and that kind of stuff. You can build that stuff fairly quickly, but you can’t build troops. You can’t build men and women. You can’t train them and get them to the point where they’re useful to you in such a short period of time. That’s why, it’s my opinion, I think it’s stupid to reduce the force that you already have trained and then have to rebuild it up later,” he said.
To combat the potential effects of the storm that’s brewing, Thomas encouraged those attending Thursday’s Rotary meeting to get involved, join the Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter as a member or a partner and work to protect the region’s economic interests as well as the nation’s security.
“We must protect what we have. We have to be aggressive, and we have to be proactive. One of the ways of doing that is going to Washington. We went Sept. 16-17 and talked to about half of the Georgia delegation. We talked to five congressmen out of the 11 … and then we went to the Pentagon and we talked to the general staff three, which is the operations guy, and plenty of people up there who fund the military. And one of the things they said to us that is critically important is that we need to have that region-wide approach,” Thomas said.
Anyone who wants to heed the mayor’s suggestion can attend a Nov. 17 listening session at 6 p.m. in Hinesville. The exact location has not yet been determined, but Thomas and other area leaders want to spread the word now. At the session, Army leadership will hear what community members think about the force reductions and restructuring that could impact the area.
Thomas and other local leaders also plan to continue traveling to Washington occasionally to keep the issue fresh in the minds of lawmakers.
“That is how we let Congress know that these are critical issues that you need to take a look at,” he said. “We have to react. Any kind of change in the military is a political decision. It comes from Congress.”