Fort Drum general urges state to give more details on impact of cuts

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times | Published: March 19, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. — Looking out on the floor of the state Senate, the 10th Mountain Division’s rear detachment commander told lawmakers Tuesday that the Army wants to hear from them about the impact of potential cuts at Fort Drum.

The service is studying the impact of cutting as many as 16,000 soldiers and civilian workers from the post, along with cuts at other installations, based on a worst-case-scenario reduction to 420,000 active duty soldiers if sequestration cuts remain in 2016. The active-duty force this year is about 520,000.

“I get a lot of queries on what this means for Fort Drum, for the north country and for New York,” Brig. Gen. Michael L. Howard said. “The truth is right now I don’t know; nobody does.”

He said the division’s structure and ability to deploy rapidly may leave it in good shape. However, Gen. Howard said the Army wants to hear from the lawmakers, just as when it researched cuts last year that led to the planned deactivation of the division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

“Based on the last reduction, I’m quite sure that you all fully intend to make your views known,” he said.

The general spoke to the state Senate as part of Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division Day. The event, organized by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, is in its third year.

Gen. Howard also highlighted the post’s connections to the community through local facilities such as hospitals and schools, which his own children attended. Many soldiers request to stay at the post, Gen. Howard said, and “in my view it is because they are so uniquely embedded in the north country.”

He also pointed out the post’s economic value. According to a new economic impact statement, the post generated $1.42 billion in activity in 2013, and $19.8 billion since 1988.

Following years of war, Gen. Howard also stressed the importance of lawmakers’ support for soldiers and military families into the future, especially the families of the wounded and fallen.

“Many of our soldiers and their families have years to go before they’re whole again,” he said.

In a telephone interview with the Times, Sen. Ritchie said she was worried when she first heard about the new study, given that the post already is expected to lose 1,500 soldiers with the 3rd Brigade’s deactivation.

If the post lost as many as 14,500 additional personnel under the worst-case scenario, she said, “it’s going to be devastating for the 10th Mountain Division; it’s going to be devastating for the north country.”

Sen. Ritchie said lawmakers would have to act quickly to show Army officials their support for the post.

“We can’t take any chances,” she said. “This is a really critical time, and all of us need to work together to rally behind Fort Drum, and we need to make sure our message is heard.”

Brig. Gen. Michael L. Howard speaks during an event at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Nov. 21, 2013.


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