Army officials say they’d like to keep airborne unit at JBER

About 500 troops from the 4-25th Airborne Brigade are participating in exercise Talisman Saber in the South Pacific. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes/KSKA)
The Army is rethinking its plan to shrink the 4-25th Airborne Brigade Combat Team. (File photo: Zachariah Hughes/KSKA)

Download Audio

Top Army officials this morning gave their clearest statements yet that they might cancel or postpone plans to shrink the 4-25th Brigade Combat Team. The Army’s original plan, announced last summer, would remove some 2,600 soldiers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Gen.  Mark Milley said he’s been looking at the decision to cut the 4-25th, the only airborne brigade combat team in the Pacific, and he’s formed a firm opinion.

“I think it would be contrary to strategic national security interests to go ahead and pull out the 4-25 at this time,” he said at a U.S. Senate hearing in Washington. “So my thought is that we should extend them at least a year, to see how the strategic situation develops.”

Getting the Army to reverse the decision to cut the JBER troops has been a top priority of U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan. He has raised it relentlessly during hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Sullivan wasn’t at the Senate Appropriations hearing where Milley arrounced his opinion that the 4-25th should stay for at least a year. Sullivan isn’t on that committee. It was Sen. Lisa Murkowski who got to ask the fruitful question.

“In your military judgment, do you think that the 4th infantry brigade combat team at JBER should be retained as a strategic deterrent to Russia, and to support our military objectives in the Pacific?” she asked.

“I do, senator,” Gen. Milley replied.

In his explanation, he gave a hat-tip to Alaska’s other senator.

“When I first was nominated and then confirmed for chief, Sen. Sullivan asked me to take a look at it. So I’ve done that. And I’ve gone to school on the situation, I think, reasonably well,” Milley said.

As the general tells it, his schooling paid off, in favor of leaving the 4-25th intact.

“I’ve concluded after about 4, 5, 6 months here of pretty intensive study that Russia is not only acting aggressively in Europe, they’re also asserting themselves in the Pacific, and specifically in the Arctic,” Milley said.

Milley is the top uniformed officer in the Army, but the decision isn’t his to make. Sitting next to him was acting Army Secretary Patrick Murphy. Murphy says the authority is his, and he sounded inclined to agree the 4-25th should remain in Alaska, to defend the Arctic and remain on deck for possible missions in the Pacific or other hotspots.

“I come from an airborne unit, (and) I deployed with them. I know it, strategically, is an incredible asset,” Murphy said. “My understandings are, from the chief’s report, that the facilities up there also, the training facilities, are second to none. We’ve invested a lot of money up there. So we are looking at that.”

The acting Army secretary told Murkowski he’d contact her soon with an answer.

Sen. Sullivan’s office issued a thankful statement reacting to the news but he says it’s not a done deal yet. The press release also included a long list of Sullivan’s efforts to preserve the 4-25th.