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Commander warns about potential Fort Drum brigade loss

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FORT DRUM — The indication from the post’s commander Monday that the installation may lose a brigade and a few thousand soldiers drew mixed reactions from lawmakers and local supporters of the post.

However, some observers noted the reshuffling of battalions could balance a brigade loss, minimizing the change in overall soldier numbers.

Speaking to the state Senate as a part of a ceremony honoring the post, Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend reminded legislators the Army was cutting eight to 12 brigades as part of long-term reductions.

With only 10 divisions “in our Army, it’s almost certain that at least one brigade will come from our 10th Mountain Division,” he said. “If sequestration remains in effect, it may force the Army to reduce as many as twice as many brigades than currently planned. If this happens, we could expect the Army to lose some divisions as well. We ask for your continued support to your 10th Mountain Division and to your Fort Drum.”

The Army may make a decision on how it will cut 80,000 soldiers across the service by fiscal year 2017 toward the end of this month or in June.

F. Anthony Keating, civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, said the impact of losing a brigade could be softened by the reshuffling of infantry battalions, of about 700 to 800 soldiers, to the remaining combat brigades. In such a scenario, the loss would come to about 1,900 soldiers.

“It sounds terrible, and any loss from our perspective is worse than no loss, but it isn’t as bad as having a brigade pick up and move, which I don’t think is going to happen here,” Mr. Keating said.

Mr. Keating said such a reshuffling fit the plans of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno to make more effective infantry brigades. In that case, Mr. Keating said, the remaining brigades with added battalions would emerge stronger than before.

The post has three infantry brigade combat teams, a sustainment brigade, a combat aviation brigade and a few other assorted units, and the post’s economic impact statement in March listed the installation at about 19,000 soldiers. The division has a fourth brigade combat team at Fort Polk, La. Each of the major brigades has about 3,500 soldiers.

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said Tuesday afternoon a loss of soldiers was one scenario discussed when the overall cuts were first mentioned. However, he said, he envisioned minimal losses or growth through the reshuffling of soldiers.

“How it’s configured is not particularly important,” Mr. Owens said. “My worry is ‘Do we have the same number of troops?’”

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Senate Armed Services Committee member, said in an emailed statement she was committed to ensuring the post remained a strong asset for the Army, region and state.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Charles E. Schumer said in an emailed statement Tuesday evening the senator would do everything he could to ensure soldiers remained at the post.

The Army and local supporters of Fort Drum have studied the impacts of long-term cuts to the post’s soldier levels for months. If the post were to lose a maximum of 8,000 soldiers, the community would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in income and economic activity, along with thousands of jobs. A Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization assessment found local schools, hospitals and housing development also would take major hits if large reductions take place. However, the studies have said the area could handle additional troops if the reshuffling placed more troops at the post.

Carl A. McLaughlin, the organization’s executive director, said Tuesday he was remaining optimistic until he saw official numbers stating otherwise. However, he said, he has been anxious about what would come from the planned cuts since they were first discussed.

“Anyone would be crazy to think their position is secure,” he said. “You have to keep working it all the time, hoping the Army makes decisions that benefit your situation and recognizing the value the installation provides.”

The full video of Gen. Townsend’s remarks can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuGcjVnnxmc. The comments about reductions can be found starting at the 16:45 mark.

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