With the U.S. Army developing plans to cut 80,000 troops from its active-duty roster, one military expert says it will be nearly impossible for Georgia’s three major Army bases to avoid some reduction in personnel.
The question is what those cuts will look like, said Gary Jones a retired Army colonel and now executive vice president for military affairs at the Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
“You can’t draw down 80,000 [troops] and not impact every installation,” Jones said.
The Army faces a nearly $500 billion budget cut when the next federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The cuts are both to align the branch’s operations with that budget and with the new U.S. defense policy underlying it: a 1.5-war scenario.
The United States has traditionally approached defense readiness from a posture of being able to fight two simultaneous wars anywhere in the world. Now that is being scaled back, Jones said, so the country could fight one war and effectively deter another enemy from starting a second one.
He said the cuts may hurt now, but they could put Georgia in place to reap benefits later.
“I am convinced at some point in the future there has to be a base realignment and closure activity, because when the force is reduced, you have more installations than are needed to support the force,’ Jones said. “As they close the various installations, then they start looking for installations that have excess capacity. If we have been impacted and lost personnel here, we in fact will be creating excess capacity.
“We may lose some strength now but further down the road may very well be in a strong position to gain growth.”
At Fort Benning in Columbus, the Army has proposed eliminating 7,100 soldier and civilian positions in its force reduction plan – a total loss of 18,000 people including those employees’ spouses and children. The Army 2020 Force Structure Realignment report said the reduction would mean the loss of a total of 9,000 direct indirect jobs, about 3 percent -- $400 million -- in regional sales, and $16 million to $20 million in state tax revenues.
“The community has put probably around $3 billion into education, transportation, facilities, all the ingredients necessary to respond to the growth that Fort Benning had when the Armor School came here,” Jones said. “So we brought all this forward, saying, ‘Is this logical...to move an entity away from here?’”
Jones said one of the key questions is whether the Army will shut down the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Benning but actually part of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart.
“They’re referred to many times in the military as ‘orphaned’ brigades,” Jones said. “These [orphaned] brigades become in the eyes of many as ‘low-hanging’ fruit. Our position was, we laid out a rationale of how that brigade could remain here and not be required to move to Fort Stewart.”
Fort Stewart stands to lose up to 8,000 soldiers and civilian employees under one of the Army’s scenarios. That would cost the Hinesville area 10,000 jobs overall, 20 percent -- $300 million -- in area sales, and $12 million to $24 million in state tax revenue. The base could also gain 3,000 combat and combat-support soldiers under another alternative.
Jones said Fort Stewart may be targeted to lose a brigade -- about 3,800 soldiers -- but probably will gain some soldiers, too, as other brigades are split up.
“They’re talking about enhancing each of these brigades by another battalion, and that will include engineer and air defense sets of a thousand each,” he said. “So if they decided, for some reason, they were going to reduce a brigade of 3,850 people, the two remaining brigades will still grow by a thousand.”
Likewise, Jones said Augusta’s Fort Gordon is positioned for potential growth.
“Fort Gordon is an excellent example of being looked at for a loss, but at the same time has a very active program to say, ‘hey, we’d like to grow this installation by maybe cyber command coming there.”
In the Army proposal, Fort Gordon could lose up to 4,300 soldiers and civilians, 6,000 total direct and indirect jobs, roughly 3 percent -- $300 million -- in regional sales, and $11 million to $13 million in state tax revenue.