Hinesville Rotarians received a status report Tuesday from what club member George Holtzman called Liberty County’s largest industry.
Col. John “J.T.” Thompson, 3rd Infantry Division chief of staff, spoke to local business leaders about changes in the Army that may affect Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.
Thompson, an aviation officer and Augusta native, began his remarks by joking with the Rotary’s Soldier of the Month, Spc. Kenyata Coleman, a lab technician and hematology/coagulation noncommissioned officer. Coleman is a graduate of the University of Mississippi. Thompson told her she picked the right conference but wrong school. He then congratulated her on her achievement and for her willingness to join the Army during a time of war. He said she and a generation of young soldiers like her knew what they were coming into, but they volunteered to serve anyway.
He told Rotarians that 23,000 Dogface soldiers now are back home, including the 3rd ID’s 3rd Armor Brigade Combat Team at Fort Benning and 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade at Hunter Army Airfield.
“For the past 13 years ... we were either getting ready to deploy, we were deployed or we were returning from a deployment,” Thompson said. “Let me tell you it’s great to speak to a group (like Rotarians) that identifies with what soldiers stand for — selflessness.”
Thompson said the Army is rapidly moving toward a goal, set by the Pentagon and Congress, to reduce the active force to 490,000 by 2017. He added that National Guard forces also were being reduced, and then said Army units would soon start training directly with National Guard units.
“Our brigade combat teams will be partnered with Guard brigade combat teams,” Thompson said. “What that will mean for us here is an increase in the rotations of Guard troops coming (for training) here at Stewart. (However), if we see another sequestration in 2014, the 490,000 number will be in jeopardy ... Any more sequestration cuts will be detrimental to combat readiness and manpower.”
He said some national leaders have suggested the Army could be reduced to 250,000, but noted that Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno believes any reductions below 450,000 would hurt the Army’s ability to respond to threats in multiple theaters.
Thompson said one local effect of reductions is the inactivation of the Marne Division’s 2nd Armor Brigade Combat Team in January 2015, which will have a “ripple effect” on the rest of the division as troops are moved around. He said even though the division is getting smaller due to the loss of a brigade, remaining brigades will grow by getting an additional maneuver battalion. Although the net loss in personnel will be about 1,200 soldiers, Thompson said Stewart-Hunter so far has fared well.
He talked briefly about the 3rd ID commander’s “re-greening affect,” which he said involved a concentration of training for brigade- and division-level combat operations that the division has been unable to do for several years due to deployments. He said this training includes lots of gunnery exercises with M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Some younger soldiers never have had this type of training because they’ve been deployed or training for deployment since being assigned to 3rd ID. He added that it was amazing how quickly today’s young soldiers can catch up on these basic skill sets.
Following Thompson’s remarks, club vice president Brigitte Shanken reminded members their club’s assistant district governor, Talmadge Yarbrough, is in stable condition in the hospital. She asked members to continue to pray for him and his family.