Local leaders urge Army to maintain troop levels

adam.ashton@thenewstribune.comApril 19, 2013 

Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson understands that cuts are coming to a downsizing Army leaving a decade of war.

He’d like to see the bulk of them fall far from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the military installation that makes up a sizable chunk of his city’s economic base.

“We hope to maintain” the Army’s current ranks of some 36,000 active-duty soldiers at Lewis-McChord, he said Thursday.

His pitch might be a tall order for an Army preparing to cut another 50,000 spots for soldiers over the next four years. It already has reduced its strength by about 30,000 from its peak of 570,000 soldiers in 2010.

Anderson joined dozens of other civic and business leaders from Pierce and Thurston counties to talk with Lewis-McChord officers about how the Army’s proposed cuts could affect their communities.

The base is one of several across the country that could lose up to 8,000 active-duty soldiers in the Army drawdown, according to an Army study released earlier this year.

The report said that kind of reduction likely would cause another 20,000 people in military families to leave the area, as well as lead to about 11,000 other layoffs at local businesses that rely on the base for contracts or customers.

A decision on where and how the cuts will unfold is expected this summer. Army leaders will take into account their strategic goals, their current resources and community impacts in weighing how to distribute the force reduction.

“The cuts have to come from somewhere, and there are no easy answers,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, Lewis-McChord’s senior Army officer.

Anderson and other officials touted several assets that could help make a case to keep a large Army presence at Lewis-McChord. Among them:

 • Easy access to ports, railroads and runways – a strong combination that helps the Army deploy its soldiers and their equipment.

 • The Army’s recent investment of some $2 billion worth of construction projects at Lewis-McChord since 2001.

 • A good location to support the Army’s renewed emphasis on operations in the Pacific.

 • A diverse economy near the base, providing opportunities for service members to enjoy an urban setting or to plan for transitions as they leave the military.

Brown and other military leaders cannot lobby to keep a certain number of service members at Lewis-McChord. They’re charged with implementing orders that come down from the Pentagon.

Instead, the Army asked Brown’s I Corps to hold the community meeting and gather feedback that can shape decisions in Washington, D.C.

Anderson and other representatives have been visiting the capital to speak up for maintaining the Army’s presence at its present strength in Pierce County.

“They can’t advocate,” Anderson said. “We need to know their needs and then those of us outside the fence can advocate for them.”

He acknowledged that Lewis-McChord’s attributes are offset by a couple drawbacks, such as sometimes too-close proximity to civilian communities. He said the local governments should work together to resolve those buffer issues, and support efforts throughout the state to keep military resources in Washington.

This week, for instance, the state’s congressional delegation wrote to the Air Force recommending that the military place its newest refueling tankers at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. Landing those jets, the KC-46A, would secure that base’s future because the Air Force is replacing a refueling tanker that currently calls Fairchild home.

The Air Force has not disclosed any plans to cut its ranks at Lewis-McChord.

The base’s wartime Army expansion shows in its growing number of units. It has about 16 Army brigades, about double the number assigned here when Brown led a Stryker brigade from 2002-05.

That quick growth presents other challenges for the Army, such as finding space for soldiers to train.

“You get in a war and things increase,” Brown said. “You get out of a war and they decrease. I was a little surprised this time that we’re in a war now,” and the cuts are already coming.

The Army released its first look at the possible cuts in January with a report that sought feedback about environmental and economic effects.

Only one civilian replied with concerns about Lewis-McChord, according to an updated report released this month. By contrast, the Army received about 40 letters from people speaking out about Fort Bragg in North Carolina and about 10 each for Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort Drum in New York.

The Army Environmental Command identified Fort Carson in Colorado as a site that could see more growth in the drawdown. The Army received some 200 letters expressing opinions about that proposal, with some of them opposed to more growth.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/military

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