Decision on 3rd Brigade may come this summer, Pentagon official said

benw@ledger-enquirer.comApril 24, 2013 

A decision is possible this summer on whether the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division remains at Fort Benning or will be cut to reduce the Army force by 2020.

“There are several layers of consideration for the timing,” said Andrew V. Napoli, a program analyst for the assistant secretary of the Army. “The preference is to try to get the process done correctly and try to get things initiated, at least announced in the summertime.”

A month after sending written comments to the Army about possibly losing the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, business leaders and residents had a chance Wednesday to seek answers from Pentagon and Army leaders in a Community Listening Session at McGinnis-Wickam Hall.

Brigades at 21 installations, including the “Sledgehammer” Brigade on post, were evaluated for economic and environmental impacts as part of the Army’s Programmatic Environmental Assessment to reduce its force by 2020. To save money, eight brigades will be deactivated with two coming from Europe. The other six brigades would be considered from installations across the nation.

During a public comment period that ended on March 21, area business leaders and residents submitted 1,100 comments on the 3rd Brigade to the Environmental Command at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Fort Benning was third behind the leader Fort Polk, La., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

At the listening session, officials said the cuts are aimed at reducing the force from 562,000 to 490,000 by 2017. Community leaders, including mayors, councilors, state lawmakers and representatives for the Congressional delegation voiced support to keep the brigade at Kelley Hill.

Other installations considered for cuts include Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Gordon, Ga.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Irwin, Calif.; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Fort Knox, Ky.; Fort Lee, Va.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Fort Polk, La.; Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii; and U.S. Army Garrison Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Lt. Col. Brent Selnau, who works at the Pentagon for the Department of the Army, said the driving factor in the cuts was the budget control act of 2011. The cuts will be similar to those made in 2005 for the Base Realignment and Closure Process. Officials are left with trying to cut a chunk of about 80,000 soldiers from the force.

“We have looked at low hanging fruit, areas we could quickly draw down,” he said.

Selnau noted that the fiscal year is over halfway gone. “We’ve got five months left,” he said. “A decision is sooner than later.”

In Washington, Napoli said leaders want to make sure there is fair dialogue and the process is transparent. “The preference to get something done is in the summer time,” he said of the cuts. “That coincides with personnel Permanent Change of Station. We also have to be mindful of our families and the schools and things like that. We have budgetary targets to hit too.”

Adolph McLendon, mayor of Richland, Ga., said he was pleased with the session with local leaders and other counties.

“It was all positive,” he said. “I do think with Fort Benning we are not that much affected directly but they offer a lot for people in our community. I don’t want to see that go. We have a great working relationship.”

Retired Lt. Gen. R.L. “Sam” Wetzel, a veteran of Korea, Vietnam and former commander of Fort Benning, asked the panel of civilian and Army officials to keep the brigade he once commanded in Germany on the post. Going back to conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, Wetzel asked if anyone saw the conflicts coming.

“We must not be unprepared for the next one,” he said. “That is the message I want you to take that back to Washington. I think everybody in this room agrees with me. We’ve got to be thinking about the future.”

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