Budget forces Army to cut 80,000 troops
Tom Vanden Brook
WASHINGTON — The Army outlined its plans on Tuesday to slash its ranks to meet budget-cutting goals, affecting posts from Fort Drum in upstate New York to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, and more cuts could be in store. The Army’s reduction of 80,000 soldiers, announced in 2012 as part of a budget deal between the White House and Congress, will occur over the next four years, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told reporters. The Pentagon’s share of the cut was $487 billion. At Fort Drum in northern New York, the Third Brigade Combat Team of the 10 th Mountain Division will be deactivated by the end of September 2016, according to the base commander, Major Gen. Stephen Townsend. The brigade, nicknamed the Spartans, has deployed to Iraq three times. Although a brigade combat team typically has 3,500 members, Townsend said he expected the overall net loss of personnel assigned to Fort Drum to be 1,500 to 2,000 because additional maneuver battalions will be assigned to the remaining brigades. New York Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, whose congressional district includes the Army base, observed that Fort Drum will lose “proportionally fewer soldiers than the Army nationwide” which he said “is a reaffirmation from the Army of Fort Drum’s value.”
But if the automatic cuts known as sequestration continue, the reductions in Army forces will be much deeper, Odierno said, forcing the Army to shed as many as 100,000 additional soldiers.
If that happens, the reductions announced Tuesday would represent “only the first step,” Odierno said. Sequestration, the automatic budget cuts of $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, has forced the Pentagon to cut about $46 billion in spending this year. That has required furloughs for civilian workers and cuts in training exercises.
The loss of 80,000 soldiers — from a wartime high of 570,000 members — by 2017 can be done without compromising the Army’s ability to handle its missions, Odierno said. The cuts would be accomplished mostly through attrition, although some officers may have to be laid off, he said. The end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq in 2011 and the scheduled withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan in 2014 allow for a safe reduction in forces, Odierno said. There are about 60,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The reductions will come through the elimination of 10 brigade combat teams in the United States and two in Europe. The Army has 45 brigade combat teams.