“In Cucolo’s defense, he was told by the highest levels of the Army that we were getting the brigade and now the secretary of defense has told us that we are not. I don’t think we should count it as a loss, we got to carry our fight to our congressmen and our senators.”
“I’m upset with the Army. This is wrong, you don’t mistreat a community. Don’t mislead me. You put me out on a limb and then cut me off.”
“The secretary of defense announcement appears to confirm the increase of assigned strength at Fort Stewart in the order of magnitude expected by the community.”
“Our primary concern is the welfare of the soldiers and families on Fort Stewart. While we’re disappointed, we’re still positive in regard to us possibly getting some units.”
“We are highly disappointed that we are not getting the brigade, based on the fact of the private investments that the community has made to get that brigade here,” Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said. “The secretary of defense did not think it [the 5th BCT] was in compliance with his plans for the immediate future.
“Now they have basically pulled the rug out from under us.”
In a statement to Congress on Tuesday, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren said the decision was made because of budget constraints and that it will allow more efficient operation of the Army and service to troops.
The brigade was scheduled to bring an estimated 10,000 people (including about 3,500 troops plus their families and support personnel) to the area between 2010 and 2011. In anticipation of the growth, a new middle school, sewage plant and other construction projects including new housing developments in the area have already begun. “When you start talking about $450 million of investments, based on their promise that a brigade was coming…there’s going to be a lot of business ramifications,” said Paul Andreshak, executive director of the Friends of Liberty and Fort Stewart, a liaison group to help community leaders find the best ways to cooperate with Fort Stewart.
Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commander of both the post and 3rd ID, said he understands the disappointment, and said he had encouraged community investment and support based on orders from his superiors.
“When we get directives from our leadership, from the secretary of defense, we’re going to execute them,” he said.
Cucolo, however, like many other parties involved, remains optimistic that some growth will come.
He said as of now, no construction contracts with the military on Fort Stewart have been stopped because there is still the possibility of getting other, smaller units or one of two brigades currently stationed in Europe, scheduled to be moved stateside.
He said currently he knows of a few smaller units that will definitely be coming, including the 10th Engineer Battalion and four additional explosive ordinance disposal companies, totaling an estimated 1,000 troops.
Although an official brigade isn’t coming, Army officials are saying the Army’s anticipated end-strength of 547,400 remains the same, despite the decision to sustain 45 brigades instead of 48. The other two brigades cut were scheduled for Fort Bliss and Fort Carson.
Geren’s statement said the population at Fort Stewart will grow from 20,512 (in 2007) to 24,970 by 2013.
“They are still scheduled to grow up until 2013. Fort Stewart will see a growth of 24,970. There is significant amount of growth that is still going to happen, but not the 5th BCT,” said Lt. Col. Lee Packnett with the Department of Defense.
He said the decision doesn’t mean plans for growth within the Army will stop.
“This is an intermediate decision and at some point the Army is going to continue its growth,” Packnett said.
Nor does the decision mean that those in Liberty County working to ensure growth will stop.
“Our primary concern is the welfare of the soldiers and families on Fort Stewart,” Andreshak said.
“While we’re disappointed, we’re still positive in regard of us possibly getting some kinds of units. We are going forward with a positive attitude to try to ensure we do all the right things to give the Army what they need.”
Jeff Ricketson, director of the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership, a regional committee designed to ease the stress of rapid growth in the area, said they’re continuing with plans for growth and construction.
“That doesn’t mean people aren’t going to continue coming to the area,” he said.
The mayor, too, said he’s not giving up and will make the area’s case for growth known.
“They are saying that there are other possibilities but what those possibilities are I do not know,” Thomas said. “That is where we have to rely on our congressional delegates to fight for us, we want to make absolutely sure that we are still kept in the loop and our investment is not loss.”
“Right now we have just begun the fight. The actual decision will be made in Congress, by the House and the Senate, so we have to ask our congressmen to ensure that we get some of the increase.”
Staff writer Alena Parker contributed to this report.