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Army report raises possibility of major troop cuts at Fort Bragg by 2020

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Fort Bragg could lose as many as 8,000 soldiers and Army civilians by 2020 under alternatives outlined by an Army report on possible force cuts.

All told, more than 10,500 jobs could be lost in Cumberland County and the surrounding region just a few years after the base realignment process brought thousands of new troops and civilians to the post.

The cuts could also mean a loss of up to $24.7 million in state tax revenue, lower home values and a dip in incomes in the region.

The report is a proposal, an Army release emphasized. No decisions on cuts have been made.

"These actions are being undertaken to reshape the Army's forces to meet more effectively national security requirements while reducing the Army's end-strength," the release said. "Force realignment and some level of force reduction will impact most major Army installations. The implementation of this force rebalancing is necessary to allow the Army to operate in a reduced budget climate, while ensuring the Army can continue to support the nation's critical defense missions."

The report released Friday - Programmatic Environmental Assessment for Army 2020 Force Structure Realignment - looks at what will happen as the Army makes planned cuts in the number of brigade combat teams. The teams could be cut from 45 to as low as 32 in a broad restructuring of the fighting force.

Military officials have made known their plans to cut the Army from about 560,000 troops to 490,000 for over a year, but the report is the first to make public where those cuts could come from. It examines the effects of different scenarios at 21 different military installations.

Fort Bragg, which some national security experts thought would be spared from cuts, is deeply affected by one of three proposed alternatives in the report.

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The first alternative would call for at least eight brigades to be cut from the Army. It's not specified what units would be inactivated on Fort Bragg, but up to 8,000 soldiers and Army civilians would be lost by 2020. An additional 4,464 spouses and 7,680 dependents could also be affected, for a total affected population of 20,144.

A second alternative would plan for even deeper brigade cuts across the Army, but those would be offset by the addition of maneuver battalions. Under that alternative, some posts would actually see gains in the number of soldiers or Army civilians.

Fort Bragg is not being considered for growth, according to the report, because it lacks the facilities and space.

The third and final alternative looks at what will happen if the military chooses to make no cuts.

The report includes analyses of the economic impact of potential Bragg cuts between now and 2020. It looks at the potential hit to Cumberland, Hoke, Harnett and Moore counties, specifying that Fort Bragg is an "essential element" of the demographics and economies of Cumberland, Hoke and Harnett counties.

According to the report, the counties could see up to 10,584 job losses, including 943 defense contractors.

The expected loss in state tax revenue ranges from $21.29 million to $24.7 million.

The maximum loss at any of the 21 bases examined in the report is 8,000. The maximum gain is 3,000.

In addition to economic impact, the report looks at environmental factors such as air quality, noise, soil erosion and water resources, among others.

The Army's brigade restructuring is intended to save money without eroding the military's fighting power. A brigade is usually about 3,500 soldiers but can be as large as 5,000. Reducing the overall number of brigades would eliminate the need for headquarters units that command and oversee them.

Fort Bragg is home to four brigade combat teams, all with the 82nd Airborne Division. It's also home to Army special operations forces.

Fort Bragg spokesman Tom McCollum said Saturday he could not comment specifically on the report, but he said the post's civilian workforce has been bracing for possible reductions in light of cuts expected to the federal budget.

"We started last September prepping the workforce," he said.

"We've what's known as 'surplus employees,' " McCollum said. "These are employees that were in, filling jobs that were not 'on the books,' if you will. There were no legitimate spots for them."

The garrison has encouraged employees who want to leave to resign or retire "so that their slots could open, and if the surplus employees had the skills to take those now-open slots, we would shift people into it," he said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price, who attended the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Fayetteville on Saturday afternoon, said the report will be a useful guide for Congress to consult as it considers reductions in the armed forces and the consequences for local communities. Price's district includes parts of the Fayetteville-Fort Bragg community.

"There's no particular prediction or plan," Price said. The document is a study "to identify impacts - and it's a wide range of impacts - that might result from troop draw-down over that period of years."

"We know we're going to have an overall troop reduction," Price said. "We also know that certain kinds of troops, including Special Forces and others where Fort Bragg plays a major role, those are likely, actually to see increased use."

Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne had not heard of the report until an Observer reporter brought it to his attention.

Chavonne said that it was important to note that there are several options being discussed.

He said he believed officials would "recognize the critical importance of Fort Bragg."

"I don't think there is any less demand for those soldiers," Chavonne said.

Chavonne said ending uncertainty in Washington, D.C. over sequestration would go a long way towards assuaging local fears of defense cuts.

"I think we should all pray," he said, when asked what could be done in Fayetteville.

Staff writer Paul Woolverton contributed to this report.

Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at brooksd@fayobserver.com or 486-3567.

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©2013 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com

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