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Fort Jackson could lose up to 3,100 jobs from mandated cuts

COLUMBIA, SC — Fort Jackson should prepare for cuts of up to 3,100 jobs – nearly half of the civilian and military workforce – if mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts go into effect after 2016.

The U.S. Department of Defense is asking base commanders to assess the impact to the community if nearly half of its 7,000 employees were to be cut or moved elsewhere.

It is part of the military’s worst-case planning for across-the-board cuts mandated by Congress as a result of the 2011 debt ceiling fight, called the sequester. If the sequester isn’t repealed by 2016, as many as 3,100 jobs could be lost at the fort as soon as 2019, said Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker, Fort Jackson’s commander.

“It’s not a decision. It’s just an assessment,” said Becker, who briefed city, state and business leaders at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce on Thursday before holding a press conference.

The Defense Department is asking all installations with more than 5,000 employees to assess the impact of deep and severe cuts. Not all of the installations, however, would sustain the harsh cuts. Fort Jackson would not automatically lose the full 3,100 jobs because of the sequester, Becker said. But military leaders want to gauge how the communities could be affected, he said.

The economic impact on the Midlands could be severe under the worst-case scenario. Fort Jackson’s economic impact on the Midlands is estimated at $2.6 billion annually. It was unclear Thursday when the assessment of potential cuts would be ready.

The Pentagon’s shot across the bow to Congress comes just two days after it announced that the U.S. Army’s Recruiting and Retention School and its 92 employees will move in October from Fort Jackson to Fort Knox, Ky.

The relocation of the school to the home of its parent command will save the Army $14 million annually, with a projected savings of $138 million over a 10-year period. The school’s mission is to train and educate Army recruiters.

With the war in Iraq over and the conflict in Afghanistan winding down, the military is preparing for deep cuts in its budget.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel earlier this month announced that the Obama administration wants to reduce the size of the Army to 440,000 or 450,000 soldiers. That’s down from a wartime high of 570,000.

Those drawdowns are less than the sequester cuts that are the result of the debt ceiling standoff three years ago that was driven by House Republicans. The sequester would reduce the size of the Army to 420,000 soldiers, if it isn’t repealed before 2017.

A smaller Army likely will mean fewer recruits trained at Fort Jackson, the nation’s largest training base, which churns out about 45,000 new soldiers annually.

Retired Maj. Gen. George Goldsmith, chairman of the Chamber’s military affairs committee, said that an Army strength of 490,000 would have no affect on Fort Jackson. Hagel’s call for 450,000 could cause some cuts at the nation’s largest training base. But a cut to 420,000 could have a severe impact on the fort and the area’s economy.

“The lower you go, the greater the impact,” Goldsmith said.

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