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Region feels budget cuts, too

Northwest Guardian

Published: 04:57PM April 25th, 2013
Region feels budget cuts, too

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian

Bob Levin, economic development services division manager for the City of Tacoma, asks a question during the community forum.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown met with local community leaders and citizens April 18 to explain the Army’s process for restructuring the force and solicit their input to an Army plan that could result in JBLM being reduced by up to 8,000 active duty Soldiers by 2017.

“The Army has to reduce its size,” said Brown, who has seen JBLM’s Army troop strength nearly double since he was a brigade commander at the installation from 2002 to 2005, when it was known as Fort Lewis.

The forced cuts to military personnel are a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, a policy that is the driving force behind furloughs for Department of the Army civilian employees. Brown said the drawdown is separate from sequestration, although a significant loss of Soldiers at JBLM would impact the local civilian employee and family member populations.

This concerns local civic and business leaders who see the benefits of a nearby military installation. If large cuts are made to military personnel, that could affect the area’s unemployment rate, housing market and the number of defense contracts awarded to small businesses.

“Personnel reductions are a very tough thing,” Brown said. “But we’ll make sure those concerns get back to Washington (D.C.).”

An overview of JBLM’s population presented at the meeting showed 47,926 active duty Soldiers are assigned to JBLM, accompanied by 54,862 family members. There are another 15,804 civilian employees and contractors and 31,550 retirees within 40 miles of the installation. The local military population generates $6 billion in annual revenue for Washington state, and JBLM is the state’s second largest employer. Seventy percent of Soldiers live in communities outside of the installation.

Brown said the Chief of Staff of the Army likely won’t be making any decisions about troop strength until June, and those decisions will only affect active duty Army personnel.

“We are not anticipating any adjustments at McChord Field,” he said.

The reduction in force does account for natural attrition, meaning the numbers include Soldiers who have already decided to leave the Army. But to reach the target Army end strength of 490,000 active duty personnel by 2017, some Soldiers may now be asked to retire early and reenlistments may not happen for others, something Brown said he’s never seen in his 32-year career.

JBLM is not the only military installation that is facing personnel cuts. Brown said nearly every Army installation nationwide will be affected by the drawdown.

Because of the decrease in troop strength the Army is putting an emphasis on transitioning Soldiers, mandating them to enroll in transition assistance a year before they are separated. They receive help with resumes, interviews and connections to job fairs. JBLM offers two apprenticeship programs through Stone Education Center so that transitioning Soldiers leave the military already having learned a trade.

The Army has already reduced the number of troops serving by about 30,000, but must eliminate another 50,000 positions in the next four years, Brown said. At the same time, the remaining Army force must adapt to enhance readiness and meet the requirements of national defense.

“We have to have a force that can still do its job,” Brown said.