The Army said today it plans to cut 2600 troops from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage and another 75 soldiers from Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. That would still leave JBER with more than 9,000 service members but it slices two-thirds of the personnel from the 4-25th, the only airborne brigade in the Pacific.
Alaska’s U.S. senators got the news this morning from the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff. Sen. Lisa Murkowski vowed to fight it.
“This is a decision that was made by the Pentagon that needs to be reversed by this president, needs to be reversed by the secretary of Defense,” she said. “And we’re going to work to educate folks as to why it should be reversed.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation, at multiple hearings, has pressed Pentagon officials to acknowledge Alaska’s strategic location on the globe and the importance of having troops who are Arctic-ready. Murkowski says Army’s decision doesn’t just harm the local economy.
“This is bad from a national security perspective,” she said. “This president made that decision that he was going to reduce force strength. And I think it was done at a time when the world was not as volatile as it is now.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan says the decision hurts American credibility overseas and damages the Army’s ability to operate in the Arctic.
You cannot take troops anywhere – Marines, Army — and put them in the Arctic and say ‘Operate.’ You have to have a culture. You have to have years of training. We have that and we’re removing it,” Sullivan said. “ The only guy who’s going to be happy about this decision right now is Vladimir Putin and maybe Kim Jung Il — or Jung Un in North Korea.”
The reductions are part of the Army’s effort to reduce its force by 40,000. The Army also announced today it’s downsizing in Georgia and Hawaii.
Sullivan says the Army should cut fat from the budget, not personnel.
“There are other ways, and I’m going to start probing,” he pledged, “whether it’s bloated headquarters, whether it’s missions that seem to be redundant of other services, like the Army’s Pacific Pathways mission, which looks an awful lot like the Marine Corp’s mission.”
Sullivan says he’s put a hold on a Pentagon confirmation until he gets more information from the Army. If there’s a silver lining, Sullivan says it’s that part of the brigade will stay.
“The entire unit’s not being removed. There’s still going to be, you know, it’s going to be removed by two-thirds,” he said. “But there’s still going to be that capability to be able to build on if we get to what the Army sees as funding levels (where) it can rebuild what is a very strategic force.”
Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said at a hearing this week the troop cuts have to come from somewhere. Dempsey blamed Congress and its budget cuts.
“I will tell you this, senator,” Dempsey said, after listening to Sullivan make the case for keeping the JBER unit. “We’re used to the Congress telling us ‘no’ on the reforms that we’re making, not because we’re trying to cut ourselves apart, but because we’ve got a trillion dollars … less in budget authority over 10 years. We’ve said from the beginning it’s a disaster.”
Murkowski says the Alaska personnel cuts won’t begin for another 18 months. She says she was told the Army hopes the reductions can come mostly from attrition, but the senator says that doesn’t seem realistic.