Hinesville Rotarians were informed about the recent Fort Stewart troop cuts and the looming sequestration battle in the nation’s capital during their Tuesday luncheon.
The guest speaker was Dr. Bill Cathcart, civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, who spoke of the 950 soldiers being cut from Fort Stewart and what the community can do to prepare for future reductions.
He touched on each of the main points reported recently, including Fort Benning’s reduction of 3,400 soldiers and the unknown number of local civilian positions that may be cut.
The next big challenge that the military faces is further troop reductions because of the Budget Control Act of 2011, otherwise known as “sequestration.”
“We’ve got to get rid of sequestration,” Cathcart said during the Hinesville Rotary Club’s weekly meeting at LaQuinta Inn.
If sequestration continues this fall, it could remove another 30,000 soldiers by 2019, shrinking the Army down from 450,000 in 2017 to 420,000.
“If sequestration cannot be thwarted, and we actually hit that point where we’ve got to reduce by 2019, another 30,000 troops, that’s going to mean the loss of additional brigade combat teams,” Cathcart said. “It will mean the loss of one combat aviation brigade, and it could very well mean the loss of, get ready for this, a division headquarters. Well, if there’s no division headquarters, there’s probably no division.”
Another topic he discussed was possible base closures in the next few years. Congress doesn’t want them, but the military does because of the large number of unused and underused facilities and the cost to maintain them.
Cathcart said that Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield are well off in several areas looked at in base realignments, including operational impact, cost to operate and partnerships.
But he emphasized the need for continued community support and local school quality to make sure the installations are good candidates to stay open.
“The military does not put installations or keep them in places where they are not wanted,” Cathcart said.
On school quality, he said that 40 percent of the students in Liberty County schools are military children and quoted a document that says the school system generally performed within the norm in a state with high academic standards.
Continuing to read from the document, Cathcart read that 14 of the 15 military-connected schools in Alabama ranked in the highest percentile in academic performance. Cathcart suggested that someone should look into what Alabama was doing right.
“Schools (are) something that has got to be looked at very, very carefully,” because if the school’s quality isn’t high for military kids, the community can lose the installation, Cathcart said.
“It is extremely important. Now the government is going to require that all the states begin not just to assess the school quality, but how the military kids are performing,” he said.
“This is the kind of stuff that needs to be done now. Because if there’s a BRAC in (2017), they’ll be studying it and it’ll be under way in (2016),” Cathcart said, using the acronym that stands for Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, an independent entity that studies which installations the Department of Defense recommends for closure or realignment.
The last BRAC completed its work in 2005, according its website, brac.gov.
After Cathcart’s presentation, Jeffery Arnold, a local attorney, commented about the Fort Stewart dental clinic, proposed to be established by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service — commonly known as AAFES — soldier housing on the installation, and the school system.
He said the Liberty County School System is high-quality and has great teachers, and he’s tired of people continually putting down the district. He also lamented Fort Stewart’s housing policy, which he said is such that homes don’t sell in Hinesville and that the AAFES clinic would compete against the local businesses.
Arnold said he doesn’t mind the government spending taxpayer money on new military facilities or equipment, but he does find it a problem when that money is used to compete against him.
“But when my government also goes into my pocket to compete against me financially, that’s not what I pay my taxes for,” he said.
Cathcart said he was only trying to encourage the community to “keep supporting and helping the schools grow.”
“I think my point is, we just need to be sure to do everything we can to keep that caliber growing and growing because I see it becoming more of a factor.”