General Says Decision on JBER Cuts Not Final Without Arctic Plan

Gen. Mark Milley is nominated for Army Chief of Staff. (Photo: U.S. Army)
Gen. Mark Milley is nominated for Army Chief of Staff. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The general nominated to be the Army’s Chief of Staff suggested this morning that the plan to cut 2,600 soldiers from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson isn’t final yet. But it’s hard to say whether the Army really plans to reconsider, or whether the general merely agreed to follow a procedure to ultimately reach a pre-determined end.

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Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan appeared to make some headway at the confirmation hearing of Gen. Mark Milley, the four-star likely to become the top uniformed officer of the Army. Since the JBER cuts were announced this month, both Alaska senators have argued it makes no sense to cut an Arctic-trained brigade when Russia is adding troops in the region. Sullivan says the Army should hold off until the Pentagon develops a real operation plan for the Arctic, not just the 13-page “Arctic Strategy” it produced in 2013.

“It mentions climate change five times and Russia in a footnote,” Sullivan said. “This is a joke of a strategy.”

Milley says the full Arctic “operation plan” is almost done, and he agreed with Sullivan the cuts shouldn’t come before the plan. Milley says, actually, that’s the sequence the Army is following, though he also deployed the past tense as he spoke of a “decision.”

“The forces in Alaska don’t get reduced, according to the decision I think I heard … until the end of ‘16 and ’17. So an ‘O plan’ first, reduction of forces of second.  If still required,” Milley said.

Milley confirmed that even if the cuts go through as stated the Army would shrink the4/25th brigade combat team, leaving one-third of it in Alaska so that some day the full unit might be reconstituted.

“So it’s designed to go to a battalion task force, with the intent of reversing it, if funding is made available,” he said.

Milley calls Russia the No. 1 threat to the United States, due to its nuclear strength and recent aggression. The need to focus more on the Arctic resonates with Sen. John McCain, who chaired Milley’s confirmation hearing  in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“We’ve got a very full agenda, but the Arctic is another that we have to be concerned (about),” McCain said. “Particularly given Russian behavior. Even Sweden, which is traditionally, as we know, a very neutral nation has become extremely concerned about Russian activity in their territorial waters.”

The Army is cutting its Brigade Combat Teams from 45 to 30. Milley says that’s an adequate number, but he cautioned brigades can’t ramp up overnight and it takes years to build a new team.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz