Senator advocates keeping Fort Drum resources

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times | Published: March 20, 2014

WATERTOWN, N.Y. — As the Army studies the effects of cutting potentially thousands of soldiers at Fort Drum, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Wednesday that the post should avoid major reductions.

Instead, the 10th Mountain Division should be the face of the service, as it transitions to become a lighter, more agile force.

“Fort Drum has to be at the heart of what our armed services hopes to become,” he said.

The senator addressed media and a collection of post advocates and elected officials at Watertown City Hall on Wednesday afternoon, saying he would fight “tooth and nail” to maintain high personnel levels at Fort Drum.

The Army’s study, announced by the post Monday, will evaluate how the area would be affected by cutting an additional 14,500 soldiers at the post, in addition to the 1,500 soldiers scheduled to be lost with the deactivation of the division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

Dozens of other posts nationwide will also be studied for potential cuts.

The study is based around a worst-case scenario of sequestration remaining in effect in 2016, which would prompt the force to reduce its size to about 420,000 soldiers. The Army currently has about 520,000 soldiers, and in its newly proposed 2015 budget would be pared to between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers.

Sen. Schumer said the idea of losing a large number of soldiers at Fort Drum was “completely off base.”

He said people should worry about the study, but not panic or think that cuts are a foregone conclusion.

“They are not,” he said.

One key to fighting against the local cuts will be for state and congressional officials to work together to show the post’s importance to top military officials, he said.

Sen. Schumer said his relationship with Defense Secretary Charles Hagel and Army Secretary John McHugh, a north country native, will also help Fort Drum’s cause. The senator said one of the first things he discussed with Mr. Hagel during his confirmation process was the importance of the post.

He also said the post’s soldiers and resources made it easier to argue in support of the post, compared with those lobbying against cuts at other installations.

Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, chairwoman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, said she was thinking most about the post’s military families.

“Many of those families say they’ve gone from base to base; whether they’ve lived on-base or off-base, they’ve never found a community they care so much about like what we have here at Fort Drum,” she said.

“And that cares so much about them,” Sen. Schumer added.

Sen. Schumer also repeated his request for the Army to finalize a 20-year contract with ReEnergy Holdings LLC. The service announced its intention to award the contract in February.

Asked about rail safety, Sen. Schumer said lawmakers should require upgrades to DOT-111 train cars, which are frequently used to transport crude oil and other hazardous materials, and have recently had safety problems.


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