Return of BRAC discussion brings memories of past proposed reductions around Fort Drum

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: February 13, 2013

FORT DRUM — Local advocates of the post are optimistic for its future despite the possibility of base reductions and closures that has been raised for the military’s 2014 budget.

The long-term BRAC discussion comes as the military braces for the possibility of sequestration that would lead to massive budget cuts.

Plans for another BRAC round were raised by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week, according to Stars and Stripes, as the military reduces service member numbers.

“What this is saying to all defense communities of every type and description is there’s got to be some downsizing, and it’s got to happen somewhere, some place and some time,” said Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization.

He said if such cuts were considered, the post may benefit from its well-developed and unencroached training ranges, which are used by military units across the region.

“It is an excellent installation for training and preparing warriors,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

F. Anthony Keating, civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, said the community’s relationship to the post may also be an asset, and has been considered during previous BRAC rounds.

“In that sense, this community is in its best shape ever,” he said.

The last BRAC round took place in 2005, with two years of planning work going into that reduction period. Other BRAC rounds have taken place in 1995, 1993, 1991 and 1989.

“It always creates angst...there’s no way to get a good night’s sleep when it’s in the offing,” Mr. Keating said. “It’s unsettling to say the least.”

For BRAC to proceed, it must first be approved by Congress. When the action was considered last year, it was immediately rejected.

In an emailed statement from his office, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said that BRAC should be rejected if brought up again, stating the action offered “limited short-term budget relief” while putting installations like Fort Drum at risk.

“Although I believe Fort Drum’s value to the Army would protect the installation from any future BRAC activity, military leaders should look elsewhere for savings within their budget,” he said.

The long-term BRAC discussion comes as the military faces massive cuts on March 1 through the sequestration process, barring Congressional action. The military has also been left for months without a budget for the 2013 fiscal year, leaving the Department of Defense to operate out of a continuing resolution for the 2012 fiscal year that is expected to create a shortfall by the end of March.

“I don’t think anybody has the full scope of what these impacts are going to be,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

Additionally, a local response is being created to a new Army assessment of the possible impact of reducing the overall number of soldiers from 562,000 for fiscal year 2012 to 490,000 by fiscal year 2020. In a worst case scenario locally, cutting 8,000 soldiers over that time period, the area could face losses of hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and income.

“This hits every facet,” Mr. McLaughlin said. The study also evaluated increasing the post’s soldier count by 3,000.

Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the post and 10th Mountain Division’s commander, said at a community breakfast last week that he did not expect extreme cuts or additions and that the post’s rapid deployments may delay any potential reductions.

The local response to the Army assessment will be discussed at FDRLO’s meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday at Jefferson Community College.

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