Joint Base Lewis-McChord will lose about 4,500 positions for active-duty soldiers over the next few years as the Army reduces its overall strength coming out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a briefing given this morning to Puget Sound congressmen.
Defense officials today told Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, that the Army plans to deactivate Lewis-McChord’s 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. That unit contains about 4,000 soldiers, about 1,000 of whom are finishing a deployment in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province.
Heck was told the Army also would close or reduce other units at Lewis-McChord. The Army in January released a report showing that Lewis-McChord had more than 36,000 active-duty soldiers, far more than the 19,000 who served there before the Iraq War. The number today is closer to 33,600, according to the I Corps.*
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno today announced that 10 Army installations would lose combat brigades in a force reduction plan intended to bring its overall strength down from a peak of 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 by 2020. Odierno is expected to visit Lewis-McChord today, but he does not have any public events on his schedule.
The Army has already cut two of its Europe-based brigades. It likely will cut one more in addition to the 10 Odierno named today.
He said at a press conference today that the Army would be forced to make even more brigade cuts unless Congress averts the so-called sequester, which calls for about $500 billion in Pentagon cuts over the next decade.
“If we go through full sequestration, there’s going to be more reductions. There’s no way around it,” he said.
The depth of the cuts here could ripple out in the South Sound’s economy. An Army study released early this year suggested a reduction of 8,000 soldiers from Lewis-McChord would cause more than 20,100 military family members to leave the area. It also would cause a loss of more than 10,000 military contract and private sector jobs.
The Army did not choose to make that “worst-case” reduction of 8,000 soldiers at Lewis-McChord at this time. Losing a Stryker brigade will hurt, though, with fewer military families settling here and spending time in the South Sound.
“These changes are never easy and they will be a tough adjustment for the community, but they come as a result of the end of combat operations in Iraq and the reduction of operations in Afghanistan,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Heck said Army officials assured him that Lewis-McChord would remain an important installation, particularly as the military turns attention to challenges in the Pacific.
“Today’s announcement ensures that Joint Base Lewis-McChord will retain its status as the U.S. Army’s main West Coast force projection base. The base will continue to play an important role in the decades ahead as our national security strategy pivots to the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
The force reductions will not take place overnight, and it could take several years for South Sound communities to feel their loss. the 4th Brigade is coming from Afghanistan. There Army has not released any word on when it would be deactivated.
“It’s not something that’s going to be immediately felt,” said Dan Penrose, who has followed the Army plans closely as a project manager for the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership. “It’s a slow drawdown.”
Lewis-McChord swelled over the past decade as it became a major platform deploying troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. It also benefited from the Army’s adoption of its marquee infantry vehicles, the eight-wheeled Strykers. Lewis-McChord has more Stryker units than other base, with 12,000 soldiers in Stryker brigades.
The Army spent more than $2 billion on construction improvements to Lewis-McChord during the wars, and it last year opened a new two-star division headquarters.
Heck spokesman Phil Gardner said the Army did not reveal any other units that it plans to deactivate at Lewis-McChord. The 4th Stryker Brigade deployed twice to Iraq in addition to its current Afghanistan mission. It’s known as the “last combat brigade” in Iraq because its final patrols out of Baghdad in August 2010 signaled a transition to entirely Iraqi led missions in the war.
* My initial post for this news suggested Joint Base Lewis-McChord is losing more than 8,000 soldiers. This was based on statements from Puget Sound congressmen that indicated Lewis-McChord’s end strength would settle at 26,500 active-duty soldiers.
This year, the Army has released environmental impact reports on its force reduction plan indicating that Lewis-McChord has more than 36,000 soldiers. Today, Lewis-McChord has 33,645 active-duty soldiers, according to the I Corps. Taking away a Stryker brigade as the Army announced today would leave the base with about 29,000 active-duty soldiers.
No one is saying at this time that Lewis-McChord is losing more than 4,500 soldiers, but Army documents released today show an end strength of 26,500 active-duty soldiers at Lewis-McChord. The math from the different sources does not add up and it does not look like they can be resolved today.