The Army is slowing down some decisions about where and how it intends to draw down its ranks over the next seven years to meet a mandated force reduction.
It extended a public comment period by one month for discussion on a broad-brush environmental report that analyzes possible cuts to every significant Army installation, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The Army 2020 Force Structure Realignment report poses a worst-case cut of 8,000 active-duty soldiers at Lewis-McChord. The base has about 36,000 active-duty soldiers today, as well as another 8,000 service members from the Air Force, Reserves and some Marines.
Two wars propelled growth at the base over the past decade. In 2003, then Fort Lewis had about 19,000 active-duty soldiers. That number does not include airmen stationed at McChord Air Field.
The Army Environmental Command is accepting public comments on the force reduction report through March 21. The initial deadline for comments was Sunday.
The Army is reducing its ranks from a peak of 562,000 active-duty soldiers to 490,000 through the rest of the decade.
Most of the environmental impacts of a force reduction are considered positive by planners. For instance, fewer troops put less strain on roads and water resources.
The negative aspects of a significant cut at Lewis-McChord are mostly economic. Removing 8,000 soldiers and their families from the South Sound could trigger the loss of another 10,150 jobs in Pierce and Thurston counties, according to the report.
Political and community leaders have expressed guarded optimism about how Lewis-McChord might in the Army’s overall force reduction. They note that Lewis-McChord has a prime location in the Pacific to help the Defense Department carry out goals to focus more resources on Asian allies.
Lewis-McChord typically is a popular duty station for soldiers because it provides a mix of urban and outdoors activities. It’s attractive to the Army in part because of the Yakima Training Center, which can host large-scale exercises.
Its drawbacks for the Army include an increasingly urban environment that can restrict some training opportunities, as well as tight competition for space on the base as its units prepare to spend more time at home.