The Army is cutting 3,400 soldiers at Fort Benning under its latest round of downsizing, with Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Ga., losing about 950 troops, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said Wednesday.
The Georgia Republican said in a release from his office that he learned of the sharp cuts at the military posts — 4,350 in all for the state — during a phone call with Secretary of the Army John McHugh. The reductions are part of U.S. Department of Defense plans to reduce the Army by 40,000 soldiers, to 450,000 overall, by Sept. 30, 2017.
Civilian workers also are expected to be eliminated during the process at the military installations, although the Defense Department has not released any numbers and Isakson did not know how many might be impacted.
However, the senator did make it clear that he was upset with the military cuts and the way the process has been handled.
“I am demanding answers from the Department of Defense on how they are justifying these troop cuts in Georgia,” Isakson said in a statement, noting he has taken steps to block a vote in the Senate on the president’s nomination of a new congressional liaison for the Defense Department due to it not giving Congress a “heads up” before the cuts were made public.
The senator also said now is not the time to be making such drastic moves amid a world filled with threats to the U.S., its people and interests abroad.
“I have talked in great detail with Secretary McHugh today and will continue to fight to see to it that we preserve every soldier in Georgia that we can,” said Isakson, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “We cannot afford to reduce our military readiness at a time when the threats to our security here at home and throughout the world are growing at an alarming rate. Instead, we should be using our military to send a clear signal to the rest of the world that America has no intention of standing down in the fight against the threat of terrorism worldwide.”
Isakson’s comments Wednesday came following media reports, initiated by USA Today late Tuesday, that the U.S. Army was poised to announced additional cuts amounting to 40,000 soldiers and as many as 17,000 civilian defense workers.
“It’ll be at some point this evening that I think congressional notification will be taking place, with public release in the morning,” Gary Jones, executive vice president of military affairs at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, said earlier Wednesday.
“I think they’re allowing the political leadership in Washington to receive the information and digest it and let them prepare their outreach to their constituents,” said Jones, confirming the chamber has been in touch with Georgia lawmakers Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
Jones, a retired U.S. Army colonel who has been working with city officials to minimize any local military cuts in recent years, said he had read the news reports concerning the Army’s plans for the cuts. The USA Today report specifically mentioned brigades at Fort Benning and at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, saying those units would be slashed from their current 4,000 troops to “battalion task forces” of around 1,050.
Jones called the brigade elements of the advance media reports “very, very confusing,” stressing that everything is pure speculation until firm numbers are released by the military.
“If you go by what the (news report) says, the brigade headquarters will go away and two of its three battalions will go away,” he said of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, which is housed on Fort Benning’s Kelley Hill off Marne Road. The go-to-war unit is part of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga.
The 3rd Brigade, commanded by Col. Michael Simmering, currently includes 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment; 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor; 3rd Squadron, 1st U.S. Cavalry; 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery; 11th Engineer Battalion; and the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion.
Fort Benning overall has about 41,000 military and civilian personnel working at the installation. About 10,000 to 12,000 individuals train on the post each year, down slightly from the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The post's director of public affairs, Gary Jones, who has the same name as the chamber's military executive, said after Isakson's release that Fort Benning officials anticipate an announcement from the Defense Department concerning "potential cuts" sometime Thursday afternoon.
The chamber's Gary Jones, however, said he had little doubt that Fort Benning would take a hit from the current projected downsizing, which follows the most recent cuts that saw the Army reduce itself by 80,000 troops. In that round, Fort Benning was targeted for cuts of about 7,100 personnel, but the 3rd Armored Brigade actually added 67 individuals, he said.
“I believe that every Army installation will receive some cuts, because the Army has already reduced itself by 80,000,” the chamber executive said. “So it has no more fat. Anything it cuts into now is bone and muscle.”
The news reports indicated the Army will continue its path of reducing its number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 30 by the end of federal fiscal year 2017, which would be by Sept. 30, 2017.
The Army’s overall troop number would drop from 570,000 at the peak of both wars to 450,000, with the military working to transform itself into a leaner, but faster and high-tech force capable of responding to several regional conflicts at once.
Jones said the chamber staff and city leaders have been “very focused” in recent months on maintaining close contact with political leaders in Washington, D.C. “We want them to know we’re supporting them, and we know they’re having to go forward and make challenging and demanding decisions,” he said. “We also want them all to know, both Democrats and Republicans, that we’re supporting them because we’ve got to stop sequestration.”