Sumter to Lose 625 Third Army Jobs

Several F-16's line up on the flight line in preparation for an Operation Readiness Exercise elephant walk at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 21, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airmen Tabatha McCarthy/released)
Several F-16's line up on the flight line in preparation for an Operation Readiness Exercise elephant walk at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 21, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airmen Tabatha McCarthy/released)

U.S. Army Central in Sumter will cut about 625 jobs at Shaw Air Force Base by Oct. 1 because of continued reductions in the military after 14 years of war.

Although the command group is responsible for the planning and execution of the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Michael Garrett said he has been ordered to reduce his staff by 25 percent. Most of the cuts will be at the Sumter base.

He plans to reduce by 54 percent the number of military personnel at his Shaw Air Force Base headquarters outside Sumter as well as 12 percent of the civilian workers and contractors there.

"We'll have to prioritize our efforts," said Garrett, who took the reins of U.S. Army Central -- formerly called Third Army -- just three weeks ago. "We'll be able to execute, but it won't be to the level we are now."

The cuts would reduce staff at the headquarters to 539 soldiers and 73 civilians, Garrett told Gov. Nikki Haley Wednesday during her annual commanders briefing with the S.C. Military Base Task Force. Haley appointed the task force to protect military jobs in the state.

Haley heard from commanders of the state's eight military installations and the S.C. National Guard. The installations are Shaw; McEntire Joint National Guard Base near Eastover; the Army's Fort Jackson in Columbia; Joint Base Charleston; Marine Recruit Depot at Parris Island; Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort; Naval Hospital Beaufort; and U.S. Coast Guard Station Charleston.

Once a year, Haley meets with the commanding officers of all military bases and organizations in the state.

Budget cuts were the main theme Wednesday for many commanders. Haley, a Republican who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, said she would work with the state's Congressional delegation to prevent further cuts.

"We want to reverse what is coming from the feds," she said.

'So old ... so young'

A study by the University of South Carolina determined that the military pumps $18.3 billion a year into the state's economy. But those jobs and their economic impact are in jeopardy if more cuts to the military occur.

The Pentagon already has implemented $487 billion in cuts to take place over the next decade, caused in part by the the end of combat operations in Iraq and the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. But another $600 billion in cuts over 10 years could be required beginning Jan. 3 because of the federal debt-ceiling standoff in 2011, called the sequester.

The sequester, combined with the Army's drawdown plans, would leave the service with 420,000 soldiers in seven years. The Army had a wartime high of 518,000.

Maj. Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Ninth Air Force, also based at Shaw, said the Air Force has already slashed equipment and personnel. He said it would be hard to complete missions in a time of "budget trauma."

"Never have our aircraft been so old and our airmen so young," he said.

So far, Fort Jackson has dodged severe budget cuts. The Army had asked former commander Maj. Gen. Bradley Becker to prepare a plan to lose 3,100 jobs -- half of the staff at the nation's largest training base. But in July, the Army announced only 180 job cuts at the fort. Ironically, the fort's new commander, Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, had led a "listening tour" of all domestic military bases and was involved in the final decision on service-wide cuts.

The 180 jobs "won't have a significant impact on our mission ... it could have been worse," he said Wednesday, but added that "managing the uncertainty (of potential future cuts) ... gives me pause."

Building half empty

U.S. Army Central is the ground component of U.S. Central Command, based in Tampa,. Fla., which controls all military personnel and operations in Egypt, the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

U.S. Army Central moved to a new headquarters building in Sumter from Atlanta's Fort McPherson in 2011. It also has a headquarters in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, where the commander and senior staff spend much of their time.

There are about 340 soldiers at Camp Arifjan, who are often shuttled between there and Sumter.

"The cuts will take place at both locations and it will be at the discretion of the commander and operational requirements (to determine) how many soldiers he has at each location," Col. Carl Marotto, U.S. Army Central's chief of public affairs, said after the meeting. He added that the cuts have already started.

"Positions that would normally be filled have started to not be filled," he said. "The reduction will take place through natural attrition as soldiers leave and get new assignments, retire or separate from service."

Garrett is the overall commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, the war again the Islamic State.

Col. Bryan Hilferty of Sumter -- a former public affairs chief for Third Army -- said he was surprised the cuts were going forward in light of the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which all have to be fought by U.S. Army Central. "We've got three wars going on over there and now the building is going to be half empty," he said.

The absence of those soldiers, workers and their families is expected to hurt the Sumter area's economy.

"We have a brand-new facility there," said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. William "Dutch" Holland of Sumter, a member of the task force and a former commander of the Ninth Air Force, which is based at Shaw. "The question is what other missions we bring in there to replace those jobs."

But former Sumter mayor Stephen Creech, also a task force member, said the area will absorb the cuts.

Unlike Shaw airmen, many of the Army soldiers assigned there are often deployed to Kuwait and haven't moved their families to Sumter, he said. That will lessen the impact of the cuts.

"I'm not going to say this won't hurt," he said. "But it's not going to be devastating."

Military in South Carolina

$18.3 million -- Economic impact of the military in the state

625 -- Number of jobs to be cut at U.S. Army Central at Shaw

180 -- Number of jobs to be cut at Fort Jackson

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Army Military Bases