Proposed Army Cutbacks Could Impact Alaska Bases
The U.S. Army is looking at greater cutbacks than previously considered, and there could be Alaska impacts. Ft. Wainwright and Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson are among posts nationwide being considered for reductions as part of the Army’s “2020 Force Structure Realignment.”
The “2020 Force Structure Realignment” proposes drastic reductions in the numbers of people at at 30 individual Army posts. It uses 2011 levels as a starting point. At Ft. Wainwright that would mean going from 7,400 people down to as few as 1,600, and at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from 6,800 to 1,500 people by the year 2020. The Army is taking public comment on an environmental assessment of the proposal.
Cathy Kropp with the Army Environmental Command in Texas, says the cuts are bigger than a proposal reviewed last year that looked at reducing the nation’s Army by about 70,000, to around 490,000 soldiers.
“So now we’re a year later, and the quadrennial defense review comes out, and it says that the Army needs to cut to 440,000 or 450,000 in that range. And if the sequester continues into 2016 we may need to cut to as low as 420,000,” she said.
Kropp says that doubles the potential reduction, and broadens it to include non-enlisted personnel.
“We’re not just looking at the brigade combat teams. This year we’re looking at all the support elements as well,” she said.
Kropp emphasizes that the cuts outlined for each base total more than the overall targeted force reduction, giving the Army downsizing options.
“It doesn’t mean that some of the installations won’t have the maximum cut. But in no way will every installation lifted get the maximum cut,” she said.
The Army finds no environmental impacts from the proposed personnel reductions but is taking feedback on effects, including socio economic impacts. Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins is optimistic the community will again stand up in support of maintaining a strong presence at Ft. Wainwright.
“They will have these community listening sessions, like we had last year. And we had an incredible turnout, it was very strong,” Hopkins said. “This year, in this latest programmatic environmental assessment it says that they will take community input and it will be one of the four factors that they are basing their decisions on. Well, we had a pretty strong showing last year, I think we’re going to have a strong showing because these listening sessions are expected to happen in September, so we’re going to do it again.”
U.S. Representative Don Young says he’s experienced numerous post war Army reductions over the decades, and urges Alaskans not to panic about the latest proposal.
“Don’t worry about things you do not have control over, and I say that very sincerely. We believe our merits outweigh the worry. We believe the location outweighs the worry,” he said.
Young points to the quick overseas deployment capability of Alaska based forces. The Army’s Kropp says there’s no deadline by which the Army has to release a final finding on impacts, nor is there a timeline for finalizing or implementing reductions.