Fort Stewart will lose 950 soldiers by the end of fiscal-year 2017, but the situation isn’t as dire as it could have been, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said.
Fort Benning, near Columbus, will lose 3,400 soldiers, bringing the total number of soldiers being cut in Georgia to 4,350, according to news releases from Georgia elected officials and the military.
These new cuts will make the Army go from 490,000 to 450,000 soldiers by October 2017, according to reports.
Despite Fort Stewart’s impending cuts, Thomas said he was relieved by the number because it could have been much worse.
“Well, my initial reaction on hearing that was relief, first of all, because it wasn’t 16,000,” he said, referring to the worst-case scenario amount for Fort Stewart.
“But then, sort of consternation in the fact that I know that our country needs more soldiers,” Thomas said. “The soldiers we have now are being deployed at a rate that they cannot sustain.”
Thomas and other regional leaders visited the Pentagon and Congress earlier this year as a delegation to “explain to them the strategic value of this entire coast.”
“We got positive reaction from both the senators, Sen. (David) Perdue, Sen. (Johnny) Isakson, and Congressman (Buddy) Carter, because they liked the idea of our coming as a region as opposed to coming individually,” he said.
Thomas believes these visits with regional leaders helped present their case and prevented Fort Stewart from taking a bigger hit.
“And I think one of the things that’s critically important is that you have to go and present your case to Congress because the Army has a voice, but Congress ultimately has to approve or disapprove of those kinds of things,” he said.
The regional impact also may be less than expected.
“If you remember, in between last December and around May, we received 450 people from Fort Gordon, Georgia. So the effect is a net loss of somewhere less than 500 (soldiers),” Thomas said.
A Department of Defense news release issued Thursday says the Department of the Army will change the makeup of a few brigades, including converting the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning into a “maneuver battalion task force” by the end of 2017. The change will take the unit down to 1,050 soldiers. Brigade combat teams usually have 4,000 soldiers.
“The Army selected these brigade combat teams for reorganization based on a variety of factors, including strategic requirements and the inherent military value of the installations where they are based,” the DOD statement reads. “The force structure decisions announced today best posture a smaller Army to meet global commitments.”
Late Thursday afternoon, Fort Stewart issued its own statement on the cuts.
“The 3rd ID’s mission does not change, nor does its value to the Army, due to these reductions,” the release states.
When the cuts are fully implemented in 2017, Fort Stewart still will have more than 3,000 more active-duty soldiers than before Sept. 11, 2001, according to the release.
“The announced force structure and stationing decision validates the strategic value of our power projection force and communities, but certainly affects a few of our proudest units,” said Brig. Gen. Jim Blackburn, the Task Force Marne commander. “We want to reassure our southeast Georgia neighbors the impact on Fort Stewart is minimal.”
The post’s release says, “Some of the 950 soldiers to be cut at Fort Stewart will be achieved by reducing the size of the 3rd ID headquarters and reducing the size of some of the tenant units.”
The reduction of 950 soldiers equals the loss of 2,500 family members, according to the release.
“We’re also confident we will be able to minimize the impact of these reductions on our soldiers and their families,” Blackburn said. “Finally, rest assured, the 3rd ID, Fort Benning and Fort Stewart remain pivotal to our nation’s defense; we will continue to train to meet our nation’s needs.”
On top of the 40,000 soldiers cut across the Army, the other upcoming dilemma is sequestration and its impact.
“If current law budget caps, commonly referred to as sequestration, are not addressed, end-strength will be further reduced to 420,000 Soldiers by FY2019,” the Fort Stewart release said. “This will result in a cumulative loss of 150,000 soldiers from the Regular Army — a 26 percent cut over a seven-year period. The resulting force would be incapable of simultaneously meeting current deployment requirements and responding to the overseas contingency requirements of the combatant commands.”
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., spoke to Secretary of the Army John McHugh by phone Wednesday and learned about the reductions in Georgia.
“I am demanding answers from the Department of Defense on how they are justifying these troop cuts in Georgia,” Isakson said in his news release Wednesday.
He added, “We cannot afford to reduce our military readiness at a time when the threats to our security here at home and throughout the world are growing at an alarming rate. Instead, we should be using our military to send a clear signal to the rest of the world that America has no intention of standing down in the fight against the threat of terrorism worldwide.”
Additional cuts to the number of civilian personnel at military bases are expected, but have not yet been announced by the DOD, the release states.
On the civilian cuts, Fort Stewart’s press release Thursday states, “We anticipate that the majority of the Department of the Army civilian reductions will be absorbed through attrition and positions that are currently unfilled. The analysis of installation impacts for civilian reductions is ongoing.”
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., also released a statement Wednesday afternoon criticizing the planned cuts.
“With global instability on the rise and increasingly unpredictable threats, this drawdown is short-sighted,” he said. “Cutting troops at this time flies in the face of reality. I believe the No. 1 responsibility of the federal government is to provide a strong national defense, and I am increasingly concerned that we will render ourselves unable to respond to the threats we face around the globe.”