JBLM cuts won’t be quite so deep

Gov. Jay Inslee convenes his Subcabinet on Military Downsizing's first meeting June 17th at the State Capitol.
Gov. Jay Inslee convenes his Subcabinet on Military Downsizing's first meeting June 17th at the State Capitol. Staff photographer

Downsizing of the military was inevitable as the U.S. ended or began winding down its role in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it appears that cuts of 1,250 troops and unspecified numbers of civilian jobs at Joint Base Lewis McChord are in the offing.

If South Sound wants to find a silver lining in this negative economic news, it’s that the likely cuts are a fraction of what might have been.

One scenario based on Army planning documents last year suggested a cut of 11,000 troops and civilians with an economic hit to the Northwest estimated at $1 billion.

Nationally, the Department of Defense is reducing the Army’s uniformed personnel by 40,000 over two years and another 17,000 civilian jobs are on the block. How many civilian cuts fall at JBLM won’t be announced until fall.

In addition, the Army plans to move its regional medical headquarters and 61 jobs from JBLM to Hawaii. This is part of the Army’s consolidation of five regional medical commands into four.

U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, says the military assures him that medical care and staffing at Madigan Army Medical Center won’t be affected.

That’s not to say additional reductions in troops could not be made locally. The dysfunctional Congress must write yearly budget each September, and the dreaded “sequester” budget tool that cuts across the board could return after 2017, according to Heck’s office. If the sequester returns after 2017, the Army’s force strength could fall another 30,000 beyond current cuts to about 420,000, Heck’s office estimates.

On the bright side, because of its centrality to the military’s evolving Pacific Rim focus, JBLM is expected to end up with 25,000 active-duty soldiers at the end of this downsizing. That compares to a peak of 34,000 in 2011 but it would still be a third more than before the U.S. went into Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. in 2001.

Other developments also make this downsizing less bad for our region. JBLM is expected to retain two Stryker brigades of 4,000 soldiers.

Also, sources told The News Tribune and The Olympian last week that the Washington National Guard will be able to replace its tanks with Stryker armored vehicles, which Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty of the Guard and West Coast governors had requested. A USA Today report based on a copy of the military’s downsizing plan said Strykers stationed in Hawaii would be moved to our state.

With our economy growing in other sectors, this round of cuts looks manageable.

Still, it is vital to help those who lose jobs and leave military service, which Gov. Jay Inslee has anticipated by creating a Subcabinet on Military Downsizing that is developing a plan for the state’s response. Such retraining help needs to be a continuing state and congressional priority.