The U.S. Army has released a final Programmatic Environmental Assessment which sets criteria to potentially determine whether the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, will be cut or remain at Fort Benning.
The PEA is part of the Army's plan to reduce its force from 562,000 to 490,000 soldiers by 2020. To reduce the military's budget, eight brigades will be deactivated, with two coming from units in Europe and others from 21 U.S. installations, like Fort Benning, with brigade combat teams.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Fort Benning, said the criteria give the Army the facts from which to make a decision.
"They are announcing what criteria they will be looking for to make a determination for which of the Brigade Combat Teams will be eliminated or consolidated," Bishop said Friday.
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If Fort Benning lost the 3rd Brigade, it would impact approximately 7,100 people, including 3,900 soldiers and about 3,200 civilian workers. On any given day, at least 46,300 personnel work at the military post, including 30,000 active-duty soldiers, 12,000 training students and 4,300 civilians.
The Army will consider many factors before a decision is made on the brigades, including environmental issues, the socioeconomic impact on employment and population, cost, and soldier and family quality of life.
"In order to reduce in strength, they will have to reduce certain units and components," Bishop said. "That is what this is about, which they will reduce or consolidate to comply with the end result, which is a smaller force."
In a release, Bishop listed installations considered for reduction: 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 Elemendorf-Richardson, Alaska,; Joint Bast 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.; the U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii and U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. The 3rd Brigade at Fort Benning is not specified on the list, but it's attached to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart.
The assessment was filed Friday in the federal registry. In its summary, the report noted two alternatives, which include inactivating the brigade units or cutting brigades and reorganizing the other brigades by adding an additional combat maneuver battalion and other units.
Although no decision has been made, no action also is an alternative, which wouldn't reduce the force.
The public has 30 days to make comments on the assessment. The deadline is Feb. 19.
"The criteria will give everyone an opportunity to demonstrate how well we hit those criteria and hopefully justify the unit remaining at Fort Benning," Bishop said.
Gary A. Jones, director of public affairs at Fort Benning, said this is the time for any member of the public, local government, business, concerned organization, to formally weigh in before any decisions are made.
"We knew it was coming," Jones said of the assessment. "This is basically announcing that this is a potential alternative and not definitely going to happen."
Gary Jones, executive vice president of military affairs for the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, said input from the assessment goes back to Washington and a decision will be made on brigades. Meanwhile, the chamber will be busy, getting out the message to residents.
"We have been actively involved since early last year communicating to our elected leadership in Washington of our concerns in this area and how important we believe it is for the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, to stay here," Jones said
Bishop noted the need for residents to comment on the assessment. "It cannot be understated how important Fort Benning, its service members, and support staff are to the community and economy of the greater Columbus region," he said. "Given the potential impact of the PEA on Fort Benning and the surrounding area, I would urge anyone concerned about the potential loss of a brigade to submit a public comment. It is vital that the details of the PEA are accurate, and we must continue to do all that we can to support our soldiers."