FORT DRUM, N.Y. (MCT) — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has sent a letter to Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno emphasizing the state’s strong support of Fort Drum and stressing the harm that cuts at the base would cause to military preparedness and the north country’s economy.
Gov. Cuomo’s Aug. 11 letter outlined several areas in which the Army benefits from its relationship with the north country community and offered to continue to provide the state’s support to strengthen those ties.
“The state is a proud partner of the Army and wishes for that partnership to continue to be strengthened so that soldiers and families of the 10th Mountain Division are provided the best of training, employment opportunities and quality of life,” Gov. Cuomo said in his letter to Mr. McHugh, a north country native, and Gen. Odierno.
Citing the Army’s “Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment for Army 2020 Force Structure Realignment” released in June, Gov. Cuomo said that possible cuts projected in the study would undermine the relationship between the communities surrounding Fort Drum and “devastate Northern New York’s regional economy,” while providing limited cost savings to the Army.
The study painted a worst-case scenario for the post, in which 16,000 soldier and civilian jobs would be cut by 2020, a move that would cause a $1.6 billion economic catastrophe across the north country, according to the study.
Gov. Cuomo maintains that the Army “derives great value from several unique aspects of Fort Drum,” including the absence of the need to operate or sustain an Army school and hospital on post.
“A partnership between the Army, New York state, and the local community has established a new model for soldier readiness and family support while allowing the Army to focus entirely what it does best, defending the United States of American and supporting our allies abroad,” he wrote.
Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, said that the letter demonstrates that Gov. Cuomo recognizes Fort Drum’s importance not only to the north country, but to the entire state, given that the post is the largest single-site employer in the state.
“It’s very important for us to have the support of the governor’s office, and the state Legislature, as well,” he said. “Fort Drum has a ripple effect throughout the state and amongst many of the state’s military suppliers.”
Mr. McLaughlin also said it is “very prestigious” for the state to host “the only power projection platform in the Northeast,” or the only facility that can deploy one or more active component brigades as well as National Guard and reserve units.
“The governor is well aware of how important (Fort Drum) is as the state and at the interstate level,” he said.
The governor, in his letter, contends that possible reductions in population and jobs at Fort Drum would be the steepest of any of the 30 facilities assessed by the Army. In addition to the soldiers lost, the study found that 24,288 spouses and children, or 33 percent of the post’s “region of influence,” would leave the area and more than 35 percent of the region’s existing jobs would be cut, a move that Gov. Cuomo referred to as a “decimating blow.” The base already lost 1,500 soldiers on Aug. 14 when the 3rd Brigade Combat Team was deactivated.
The governor also cites multiple investments made partially with state funding to support Fort Drum, such as a $57 million highway connecting the fort’s North Gate to Interstate 81 and more than 1,000 new housing units in the community, as examples of the area’s commitment to the post. He also claims that the Army saves money by not having an on-post school or hospital, as off-post local and state investment in these areas “has increased the fort’s healthcare and educational capacity far beyond what would otherwise exist.”
Gov. Cuomo argues that because healthcare and educational needs are being met off-post, the Army would not realize any additional cost savings from reduced demand driven by force reductions at Fort Drum as it would at other installations.
“While the state knows the Army faces difficult decisions, Fort Drum simply leverages too many capabilities, cost savings and Total Force benefits from the existing partnerships with the state and local community to risk crippling the region’s economy with any further reductions,” Gov. Cuomo wrote.
©2014 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.