SAN ANTONIO — A Texas Army National Guard brigade combat team that served in Kosovo and Iraq and responded to three hurricanes would lose its headquarters under a Pentagon proposal.
Gov. Rick Perry ripped the decision Tuesday, saying it could hurt the state's ability to respond to disasters that have included Hurricanes Rita, Katrina and Ike.
“There are many ways to balance the federal budget, but this decision to eliminate the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team's headquarters risks Texas' ability to properly respond to hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other natural disasters, and is shortsighted,” he said.
As the plan stands, 175 soldiers with the Houston-based brigade headquarters would be reassigned to other units in the state. It wasn't clear if there would be job losses.
The Texas Guard said some of the brigade's battalions would report to National Guard units in other states. That prompted officials in Austin to worry that its battalions would have no central command in Texas, complicating disaster-response efforts.
The 72nd Infantry Brigade, part of the 36th Infantry Division, dates to Camp Bowie in 1917. Some brigade regiments served in U.S.-Mexico border skirmishes during the Pancho Villa era and fought in both world wars.
The Texas Guard is slated to lose 16 Apache Longbows at Ellington Field near the NASA Johnson Space Center as well as six light-duty helicopters under a Pentagon reorganization proposal. The fate of 183 Longbow pilots, mechanics and armament specialists based on Ellington Field isn't clear.
Facing a drawdown of 80,000 active-duty troops and a shrinking pool of funds for weapons modernization, the Army also would junk the OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter and 15 job specialties that support it rather than spend $10 billion to upgrade the aircraft.
The cuts are part of a sweeping reduction in forces and weapons systems. The Defense Department also wants Congress to approve a sixth base-closure round, but the proposal has received a chilly reception on Capitol Hill.
The White House and Arlington, Va.-based National Guard Bureau did not return calls for comment. U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Texas Republicans, were gathering information about the plan.
In a brief statement, Perry argued eliminating the brigade combat team was the wrong way to cope with Washington's budget woes. He noted the guard has responded to more than 150 disasters in the region over the past decade and also fought overseas.
“Diminishing the guard's capacity to help in a time of national need is irresponsible,” he said. “Instead of eliminating the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team's headquarters, we must do all we can to support the citizen-soldiers we rely on to protect our safety, and our nation.”