Fort Benning may face 25 percent reduction in cuts

benw@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 21, 2013 

Leaders at Fort Benning are considering an Army directive that calls for 25 percent cuts from its budget and personnel costs at the headquarters level.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence under the command of Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster and other installations were notified in an Aug. 14 memo from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno and Secretary of the Army John McHugh. An Army Force Area Review Group will look for ways to make cuts at installations with headquarter elements at the major general level and above.

Details of the review were reported by Defense News, which obtained a copy of the memo. A deadline for the review is Sept. 11, more than two weeks before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

Gary Jones, the director of public affairs at Fort Benning, said officials are still studying the internal document.

“We just found out about it literally earlier today,” he said. “We have not figured out all the implications of it yet.”

Fort Benning, the sixth largest installation in the nation, trains thousands of soldiers each year at the Infantry School and Armor School. The 25 percent reduction is news that leaders at Fort Benning hadn’t heard.

“We all knew that we were most likely going to face additional budget concerns over the next several years because any body with eyes to see can see the federal budget has got some challenges,” Jones said. “We didn’t know about this specific action until news broke early this morning.”

Although the post is still considering the memo, Jones said the document appears to state that changes at the two-star level would apply to Fort Benning.

“The way I read it, we have to come up with 25 percent reductions,” Jones said. “We don’t know what that means yet. Does that mean reduction in money, people or does that mean equipment? What does that mean? We don’t know yet.”

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, said he’s aware of the directive from the Army and it’s referring to a reduction in people and resources. “What you have to do is make sure you are not top heavy,” Bishop said, after attending an editorial board meeting at the newspaper. “This deals with headquarters people, the two stars and above.”

Using Robins Air Force Base as a example, Bishop said a two-star general was running the base, but the position was down graded to a one-star general. “Now they are considering having the command there at a colonel level,” he said.

McMaster is the commander at Fort Benning, but there are colonels promotable or one-star generals leading the Infantry and Armor Schools. Bishop said a two-star slot probably will remain at the post, but officials have to figure out what level of command will direct each of the training schools. “They are going to look at reducing that total number,” Bishop said.

The directive came on the heels of many civilian employees completing six days of furloughs, a cost-saving move that originally called for 22 days before they were reduced.

“They thought things were going to be OK,” Bishop said. “Looking through their crystal ball at what’s happening or not happening in Congress, they have come to the conclusion at the Pentagon that sequester is probably going to remain in place. They’re going to have to permanently tighten their belts.” Bishop said he thinks the directive is in preparation for whatever may happen after Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year.

“We don’t have a budget,” he said. “We don’t have an appropriations process. Everything is a question mark. The military can’t operate on a question mark. They can’t make certain assumptions.”

Jones said the post may have more information on the memo in a day or two. “In the next day or so, we can probably clarify it,” he said.

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