Army makes big cut to number of troops trained at Fort Benning

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 19, 2012 

Fort Benning will train 35,000 fewer troops in the 2012 fiscal year than it did in 2011, according to revised projections as troops return from Iraq.

The post will train 96,000 soldiers this fiscal year -- which began Oct. 1, 2011, and ends Sept. 30 -- compared to 131,000 for fiscal year 2011.

That revised number is dramatically lower than previous projections, said Gary A. Jones, director of public affairs for the Maneuver Center of Excellence.

“We previously projected our fiscal year 2011 number of personnel to be trained at about 145,000,” he said. “However, the Army’s announced personnel draw down and the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 have affected training requirements across the Army.”

The news comes two weeks after the president announced plans to cut $487 billion from the defense budget over the next decade.

The new training numbers indicate the Army is becoming smaller, said retired Col. Gary Jones, who retired as garrison commander at Fort Benning in 1993 and is vice president of economic development and military affairs at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

“This is clearly an indicator that the military must be doing some advance planning to become smaller,” he said. “Those numbers are an indicator of things that are just starting to fall in place.”

It is unknown how the latest training projections will impact the Armor School and Infantry School at Fort Benning.

As part of the Base Realignment and Closure process, the Armor School completed a 500-mile move from Fort Knox, Ky., in September, bringing with it 2,200 soldiers and civilians. Made up of the 194th Armored Brigade, 316th Cavalry Brigade and the 192 Infantry Brigade, the school offers nine courses on post, including Bradley Fighting Vehicle and tank mechanics, master gunner, cavalry leader and Army reconnaissance.

Fort Benning has trained infantry soldiers since the post was built in 1918. The Infantry School teaches 20 courses, including basic training, Airborne, jump master and other specialized schools.

To save money this year, the post must cut 250 civilian jobs from its fiscal year 2012 budget. About 200 of them have already been eliminated, with the other 50 to be gone by Sept. 30.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., D-Albany, said Tuesday he hadn’t heard about the training reductions, but that they are consistent with what he expected.

“If they are going to have a reduction in strength, they will train fewer soldiers,” said Bishop, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Fort Benning. “The Maneuver Center is one of the major organizations for training under (U.S. Army) Training and Doctrine (Command). Obviously, that means they would have to change.”

Discussions have been under way among the Joint Chiefs of Staff to trim budgets at military installations and still meet responsibilities, Bishop said, and such reductions could have a rippling effect on some support jobs like food services with contracted employees.

“It’s unfortunate,” Bishop said. “If you don’t have as many soldiers to train, you don’t have to prepare as many meals.”

Bishop said training 96,000 soldiers -- or about 8,000 per month -- remains a large and important task.

“That’s still a lot of soldiers,” he said.

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