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Potential Army cuts daunting for all military bases

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 19, 2015

As the north country prepares to argue against cuts at Fort Drum, the looming drawdown of troops has spurred responses at military communities nationwide.

In the area near Fort Riley, Kan., about 4,300 people showed up at a listening session Feb. 9. The Junction City Chamber of Commerce and other advocates set up tents for an appreciation event before the session and made hot dogs for people who couldn’t get into the room, as the event also was broadcast outside.

“People understood it was a crucial situation,” said Susan D. Jagerson, an economic development specialist with the chamber.

Near Fort Polk, La., the surrounding community’s rally included a lining of the street for incoming Army officials, and was held simultaneously at three locations.

“The numbers of people that support this demonstrate to the Army, it’s not just the numbers on paper; these people put a face to that,” said Michael D. Reese, chairman of advocacy group Fort Polk Progress.

At Fort Bragg, a Thursday morning session led to a crowd of about 550. Brandon P. Plotnick, marketing director of the Fayetteville Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the decision for a more subdued event was intentional, after seeing more raucous events at other installations.

“It was very much a business session, rather than a seduction session,” he said.

Other sessions have drawn from hundreds to thousands of people.

Mr. Reese said many of the rallies emphasize community investment and partnerships, creating a mirroring effect.

“In a lot of ways, a lot of listening sessions are starting to look very similar,” he said.

Perhaps more important than the sessions, Mr. Reese said, was an emphasis on ending sequestration.

The depth of the servicewide cuts is unclear, primarily because of sequestration budget cuts. With a force of about 500,000 active duty soldiers, the Army is considering a force of 450,000, 420,000, or even lower, depending on how long the budget cuts continue.

“If our communities are to survive, and thrive with our military partners, we have got to come together to find the overall congressional solution to these sequester cuts that are really driving these force reductions,” Mr. Reese said.

One of the few bases other than Fort Drum that has not yet held its listening session is Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, which will have its turn Tuesday.

“We’re taking it very seriously,” said Pete Taylor, a retired lieutenant general and chairman of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, a nonprofit helping Fort Hood organize the session.

Mr. Taylor noted that Congress was the driving force behind the personnel cuts, and without stable budgets, the Army was forced to cut “in a salami-sliced fashion.”

“It’s not the Army that’s the problem,” Mr. Taylor said. “It’s the Congress and sequestration.”

Army officials have said at hearings that the final decisions on cuts have not been made, with some listening-session reports indicating final calls are months away.

The Fort Drum-related events on Friday include a rally at Jefferson Community College beginning at 5 p.m., leading into the Army’s listening session there at 6 p.m.

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©2015 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)
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