Communities Show up in Force as Army Considers Options for Eliminating Brigades
The listening sessions the Army has held over the past month at 29 installations before it decides how to rebalance its force structure have provided local officials an opportunity to highlight the contributions their communities have made to support the service.
The Watertown, N.Y., region, for example, has expanded its local hospital to support Fort Drum, which does not have a medical center. The community has helped in other ways as well, including adding housing and hotel capacity, and constructing a new connector road to Fort Drum after the post added a brigade combat team (BCT) in 2007.
At the outset of last week’s meeting, which attracted almost 200 people, Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend, 10th Mountain Division commander, argued that the post can handle additional soldiers, reported the Watertown Daily Times.
“When the Army planners ask us what’s our ability to grow at Fort Drum, we say, ‘Yes we can,’” he said. “That’s the only answer we have for them.”
Investment in new roads was a popular theme at the sessions. Local officials in Fayetteville, N.C., last week cited a project currently under way to build a highway outer loop to ease congestion to and from Fort Bragg, reported Government Executive. Leaders in El Paso, Texas, meanwhile, noted the creative financing they put together to construct a 7.4-mile highway connecting Fort Bliss to the local airport.
Of course, many speakers underscored the strong economic ties between their communities and neighboring posts. Fort Gordon has helped add 6,000 jobs to Augusta, Ga., and the surrounding region, increase the real estate market by 10,000 homes, raise $147 billion for investment in public education and increase broadband infrastructure by 220 miles, Ron Thigpen, the vice chairman of the Columbia County Commission, told a listening session last week.
Jeff Foley, the vice president of military affairs for Georgia Regents University, noted that the school has stepped up to support the installation. Through partnerships with Fort Gordon, the enrollment of veterans at the university has increased from 380 to 570 students, the school’s ROTC program has become one of the finest in the country, and the campus hospital has greatly increased the number of hospital beds, dental labs, clinical training and medical research, reported the Augusta Chronicle.
“It really is about trusted relationships that have been developed over many years in patriotic service,” Foley said.
As a Savannah, Ga., alderman noted at last week’s listening session for Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, “Any loss would be felt by our community.”
The Army is expected to announce what installations will lose BCTs and additional personnel this summer. The Army plans to eliminate a minimum of six BCTs in the United States to trim its active-duty end strength by 72,000 soldiers, leading to the potential loss of up to 8,000 soldiers at affected posts. Installations without a BCT could lose thousands of personnel as well.
Under a second scenario the Army is considering, multiple installations would gain between 1,000 and 3,000 personnel after additional brigades are eliminated and the remaining BCTs pick up a third combat maneuver battalion.