Defense Secretary Ashton Carter all but guaranteed Thursday that the Army's 4-25 Brigade Combat Team will stay in Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for at least another year.
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter said he was ready to sign off on the expected recommendation from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to keep the 4-25 and its 2,600 troops in Alaska.
"With respect to the 4-25, I've looked into that" while awaiting Milley's formal recommendation, Carter said. "If he (Milley) makes that recommendation to me, I want you to know I'm going to approve that," Carter said in response to questions from Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, on the fate of the 4-25.
Milley has already indicated that he will make the recommendation. "I think it would be contrary to U.S. national security interests to go ahead and pull out the 4-25 at this time," Milley said at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last month. "My thought is that we should extend them at least a year to see how the strategic situation develops and then move from there."
Sullivan said then that "The 4-25 is the only extreme cold weather and mountain-trained airborne brigade combat team in the entire U.S. Army, and the only one strategically located to respond to threats in the Asia-Pacific and the Arctic," Sullivan said. Removing the brigade "makes zero strategic sense," Sullivan said.
In January, Maj. Gen. Bryan Owens, commander of U.S. Army Alaska (USARAK), expressed his concerns that losing the 4-25 would cut his overall troop strength from 11,000 to 9,000.
"This is important to us," Owens said of retaining the 4-25. "I don't know what we're going to come down to" in terms of end strength. "We may lose up to 2,000 troops in the process here."
The 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) of the 25th Infantry Division, also known as the 4-25, was one the units named by the Army last July to be cut as the service seeks to pare down to 450,000 troops in 2018.
To reduce the number of brigade combat teams from 32 to 30, the 4-25 and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, were to be reduced to smaller units by the end of Fiscal Year 2017.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com