Top Army nominee says he’s not keen to cut Alaska troops

Eric Fanning in 2013, when he was Acting Air Force Secretary. Photo Christopher Muncy/N.Y. Air National Guard
Eric Fanning in 2013, when he was Acting Air Force Secretary. Photo Christopher Muncy/N.Y. Air National Guard

When Pentagon nominees comes before the Senate Armed Services Committee for a confirmation hearing, it’s a sure bet that Sen. Dan Sullivan will press them on the 4-25th. That’s the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the one  slated for reduction.

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Eric Fanning is nominated to be the next secretary of the Army, so at his hearing today, he was a prime target of Sullivan’s campaign to draw attention to the role the 4-25th plays.

“Does the U.S. Army have any other airborne brigade that is trained, equipped and ready to fight and win in subzero mountain climates like those in the Arctic, or those in North Korea?” Sullivan asked.

“No, not like those we have in Alaska,” Fanning answered.

For Sullivan, these confirmation hearings are a chance to squeeze a nominee for a public commitment to reconsider the JBER reduction. Fanning offered little resistance.

“If confirmed, senator, I would look for ways to reverse as many of the combat cuts that the Army made last year as possible, to include Alaska,” he pledged.

Other Republican senators, and Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, chimed in to support more military focus on the Arctic, in light of Russia’s military build-up in its far north.

Fanning has worked in the civilian leadership of all three military branches. He seems well versed in the case for a strong military presence in Alaska. In fact, when answering questions from Sen. King, Fanning showed that Alaska’s selling points have persuaded him in the past.

“And as regards to the Arctic and Alaska in particular, when I became acting secretary of the Air Force, about two years ago, one of the first things I did was reverse an Air Force decision to move a squadron of aggressors, fighter jets, out of Alaska,” he said. And then he rattled off the attributes Alaska leaders often make for keeping military assets in state: “Because of the strategic importance there, because of the range space we have there, because of the proximity not just to adversaries or potential adversaries in the Pacific but proximity to our partners.”

The Army last summer announced it would cut 2,600 soldiers from the Anchorage base, and 75 from Fort Wainwright, due to budget pressure. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley later said the decision was still under review.

It did not come up at the hearing, but if confirmed, Fanning would be the first openly gay Army secretary. Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, though, has pledged to block his confirmation unless the White House promises none of the terror suspect imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay will be transferred to Fort Leavenworth.