Alaska Governor Travels to Pentagon to Make Case to Avoid Troop Cuts

Capt. Jack Fine (left) and Senior Airman Sergio Barcena-Turner, both assigned to the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, simulate a patrol March 3, 2014, at Sixmile Lake, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (AF photo)
Capt. Jack Fine (left) and Senior Airman Sergio Barcena-Turner, both assigned to the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, simulate a patrol March 3, 2014, at Sixmile Lake, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (AF photo)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker met Thursday in Washington, D.C., with Pentagon officials to make a case for maintaining current troop levels in the state.

Walker stressed Alaska's strategic importance, especially with Russia enhancing its military presence in the Arctic, he said in a phone interview.

Walker also met with White House staff to work on logistics of President Obama's trip to Alaska next month. Walker plans to speak to the president about the importance of a proposed natural gas pipeline that could move North Slope gas to market. He will also bring up infrastructure that could enhance energy development and access for new wells, he said.

"We have a pipeline that needs more oil," he said, referring to the trans-Alaska pipeline. "It's three-quarters empty."

Army officials announced two weeks ago that they planned a reduction of 2,631 paratrooper positions at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage and 75 troops at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.

The Anchorage base is one of six domestic bases that will lose 1,200 or more soldiers as part of a cost-saving plan to reduce the active-duty force by 40,000 troops over two years. The Army estimates that the cut of 40,000 soldiers will save $7 billion over four years.

As many as 17,000 Army civilian positions also would be cut.

Walker on Thursday reviewed criteria for making cuts with Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, and in a separate meeting, her Air Force equivalent.

"This is all being driven not by military strategy, it's being driven by sequestration, funding limitations. They all expressed their strong preference to not be making the cuts they're making."

Russia, he said, is reopening 10 Arctic bases and building four new ones.

"It makes me very nervous that the Russians are increasing their presence in the Arctic while we're reducing ours," he said. "It doesn't seem like a good fit."

Troop reductions will not kick in until late fall 2016, he said. Thursday was the start of a conversation.

"It's the start of a process — meeting the various folks involved in the decision-making and continuing to push to see if any options are available," Walker said.

A new round of automatic spending cuts could take effect in the budget year beginning Oct. 1. The Army says it would have to reduce active-duty personnel to 420,000 soldiers by 2019.

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