As the military prepares to downsize, Fort Bragg will likely have to make some adjustments, but its future is safe, according to the military's top officer.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Saturday that although the military has a significant amount of excess infrastructure, the future of Fort Bragg is solid. Dempsey sat down with reporters at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club in Durham, where he is in town to give the commencement address at Duke University today.
"If you're asking me is Fort Bragg in any way of risk," Dempsey said, "the answer is absolutely not."
But Dempsey said communities connected to Fort Bragg probably could expect layoffs.
The budget submitted to Congress by the Department of Defense, he said, includes cuts to both military and civilian personnel. But how those cuts will happen is up in the air. When the budget comes back marked up by lawmakers, he said, there could be restrictions placed on the manpower reductions.
"The restrictions could be on the number," he said. "The restrictions could be on the pace, and so we don't have it back yet."
The current task of reducing manpower and other resources is nothing new to the military, Dempsey said, noting similar episodes during his career after the Vietnam War and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
"The armed forces are actually quite accustomed to increases and decreases in resources,'' he said. "That's not the issue for me. ... What they don't accept very well is uncertainty."
Dempsey said military leaders have told the nation's elected leaders both in the legislative and executive branches that they need three things: certainty, flexibility and time.
"The lack of certainty is what you're experiencing in people who live around places like Fort Bragg," he said. And in terms of flexibility, he added, "we've got to be able to get rid of some excess infrastructure. We estimate that we have about 20 percent excess infrastructure in terms of bases, camps and stations."
He called asking the Department of Defense to reduce its budget by $1 trillion over 10 years "extraordinarily irresponsible," a measure that, if the department meets it, will "put the nation at unacceptable risk," he said.
"I really do empathize and sympathize with the people that live around places like Fort Bragg, North Carolina," he said, "because we don't have certainty, we don't have flexibility, and we don't have time, and we need all three."
But Dempsey's message to the families, soldiers and airmen at Fort Bragg and Pope Airfield is that "this will settle out."
"I apologize for the uncertainty that they're suffering in the interim," he said. "But Fort Bragg is one of the cornerstones of our military strategy. As a power projection platform, and of course as the home for some of our most elite units in the Army and the Air Force."