The U.S. Army on Thursday detailed plans to shed tens of thousands of soldiers at bases around the world over the next few years.
The service plans to cut its active-duty force by another 40,000 soldiers from about 490,000 soldiers today to approximately 450,000 soldiers by fiscal 2018 in a massive restructuring largely driven by automatic spending caps known as sequestration, according to Brig. Gen. Randy George, director of Army force management.
"These are incredibly difficult choices," he told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.
In addition to the uniformed personnel, the service will cut some 17,000 civilian employees. The reductions, estimated to generate some $7 billion in savings, will begin in October and impact virtually every Army installation throughout the world. Fort Benning in Georgia and Fort Richardson in Alaska will be hit particularly hard, losing a few thousand soldiers apiece, according to a base-by-base breakdown of the reductions.
At least six bases are slated to lose more than 1,000 soldiers apiece over the next two years, according to information provided by the Army. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska will lose 2,631 soldiers, or 59 percent, of its active-duty population -- the largest percentage drop of any base in the U.S. or overseas.
The other installations include:
- Fort Benning, which will lose 3,402 soldiers, or 29 percent;
- Fort Hood in Texas, 3,350 soldiers, or 9 percent;
- Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, 1,214 soldiers or 8 percent;
- Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington, 1,251 soldiers, or 5 percent; and
- Fort Bliss in Texas, 1,219 soldiers or 5 percent, according to the Army.
Bases in Germany, Italy and South Korea will also be impacted.
The service will shed two more brigade combat teams between now and 2017, leaving it with a total of 30 BCTs -- down from 45 BCTs in 2013, according to the service. The brigade combat teams will be turned to battalion task forces.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning will reduce to an infantry battalion task force; the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division at Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson will do the same; and the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii will convert to an Infantry Brigade Combat Team, according to the Army.
RELYING ON RESERVES
The latter will occur by relying on reserve forces, George said.
For example, the Army plans to work with the National Guard to move Stryker combat vehicles in Hawaii and convert the 81st Armored Brigade Combat Team, located in Washington, Oregon and California, into a Stryker Brigade Combat Team, he said.
"This conversion enhances our operational reserve capability, retains a lethal combat formation in support of the Pacific and gives the [Army National Guard] a Stryker BCT on both coasts," George said.
The reductions will also affect headquarters units and generating forces and enabling forces such as signal, logistics, civil affairs and military police, he said. The restructuring was based on analysis conducted by the Army and the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, he said.
The brigadier general said the Army will seek to achieve a portion of the manpower reductions through attrition of retiring troops and civilians, though he acknowledged that layoffs are inevitable. He couldn’t say what percentage of the overall cuts will come from layoffs -- or what ranks or military occupational specialties will be more affected than others.
"We understand the turbulence that this is going to have to our soldiers and families -- obviously not a cut that we would want to make," he said. "But we will minimize that wherever we can."
The Army last year notified some officers that they would be involuntarily separated from the service -- after they had already deployed a new duty assignment. Some reportedly received the notifications while serving in the war zone.
The worst may not be over. If sequestration remains in effect, George said, the active-duty component will shed another 30,000 soldiers and shrink to 420,000 soldiers by fiscal 2019.
"The resulting force would be incapable of simultaneously meeting current deployment requirements and responding to the overseas contingency requirements of the combatant commands," he said.
--Brendan McGarry can be reached at email@example.com