- 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division will be deactivated
- Brigades at 10 Army bases will be eliminated by 2017
- The plan is to cut the overall size of the Army by 80,000
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- They're called "the last combat brigade" because they were the last to leave Iraq in 2010. Now, they're the first to be jettisoned by the Army in a massive round of cuts as America’s wars wind down.
“It's always tough to hear when you have a unit that has such a long lineage and a lot of pride,” said Col. David Johnson of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The 4,500 men and women of JBLM's 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division are being deactivated, meaning their military service is ending and they'll have to return to civilian life. About 1,000 fighters from the 4-2 were still serving in Kandahar as the announcement came down Tuesday.
“It's key that for those soldiers in Afghanistan right now know the level of support for them isn't diminished. The level of support is as high as ever, as well as taking care of their families,” said Johnson.
The Army is slashing the number of active duty combat brigades from 45 to 33, and shifting thousands of soldiers out of bases around the country as it moves forward with a longtime plan to cut the size of the service by 80,000.
The Army estimates a total of more than 20,000 military folks and their families will leave the JBLM area. Some 10,000 jobs will be lost, as well, both on base and off. It’s a tough blow to a community that has been built around America's wars over the past decade.
Dupont Station is a neat, bustling shopping and retail center located just across I-5 from the base. It came to life just as the U.S. began its current engagement in the Middle East. Since then dozens of new businesses have flourished as the number of troops climbed from a pre-9/11 population of 19,000 personnel to about 36,000 today. Now, many worry whether the price of peace will cost them their livelihoods.
“I’m a little nervous,” said Edgar Pelayo, manager of Viva Mexico Restaurant. 80% of his business comes from the military. “The cuts will have a deep economic impact on the community, from real estate to commercial business, banking, financing,” he said.
In addition to lost business there is also the human toll: friendships, families and romances that will be forced to withstand the break-up of a brigade. Marina Arias is concerned deeper cuts may test her relationship with her boyfriend, a JBLM soldier.
“I do love him. Hopefully we will get married,” she said walking hand-in-hand with him. “I'm from Washington and, if he got cut I would want him to stay here.”
The deactivation will be phased in over the next four years. For now, Army officials say they don't know if or when more cuts will come to JBLM.
“I have been closely following these changes over the past six months and was not surprised by this news. Given the large size of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, it was difficult to imagine a scenario where its force size was not reduced,” said Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash.
Heck said the moves were mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and are not related to sequestration.
Heck said JBLM will have 26,500 active-duty soldiers once the changes are complete in 2017. That’s over 10,000 more than were stationed there before Sept. 11, 2001.
Officials say the sweeping changes would eliminate brigades at 10 Army bases in the U.S. by 2017, including in Texas, Kentucky, Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina, New York, Kansas and Washington. The Army will also cut thousands of other jobs across the service, including soldiers in units that support the brigades, and two brigades in Germany have already been scheduled for elimination.
Officials provided details on the plans on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. An announcement is expected Tuesday afternoon. The Army is being reduced in size from a high of about 570,000 during the peak of the Iraq war to 490,000 as part of efforts to cut the budget and reflect the country's military needs as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end. Additional reductions could be required if Congress allows automatic budget cuts to continue into next year.
While the cuts may have less impact at some of the Army's larger bases such as Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, they could be more painful for communities around some of the smaller installations such as Fort Knox, where currently only one brigade is based.
The other U.S. bases that will lose a brigade are: Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Campbell in Kentucky, Fort Carson in Colorado, Fort Drum in New York, Fort Riley in Kansas, and Fort Stewart in Georgia. Soldiers in the deactivated brigades would be transferred to other units.
The overall cut in size has been known for more than a year, and Army leaders have been working on how to manage the reduction, conducting local community meetings across the country and releasing an extensive study on the issue earlier this year.
Under the plan set to be announced Tuesday, the Army will increase the size of its infantry and armor brigades by adding another battalion, which is between 600-800 soldiers. Adding the battalion was a recommendation from commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan who said it would beef up the fighting capabilities of the brigades when they go to war.
A brigade is usually about 3,500 soldiers, but can be as large as 5,000 for the heavily armored units.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, has said he hopes to be able to cut the 80,000 soldiers through voluntary departures, without forcing troops to leave the service. But Army leaders have not ruled out forced reductions.
The cuts do not affect National Guard or Reserve brigades and units.
Officials said the decisions on the cuts were based on a variety of factors including required training resources, ranges, air space and infrastructure, as well as the need to put units near leadership and headquarters units.
Gen. Odierno is scheduled to attend a Town Hall meeting with soldiers, families and civilians at JBLM Wednesday.