FORT BENNING, Ga., (Feb. 25, 2015) — Army leaders provided an update on potential personnel reductions at Fort Benning and gathered feedback from the community during a listening session in front of a crowd of more than 500 people, Feb. 18, at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.
Brig. Gen. Roger Cloutier, the Army’s director of force management, said that no decisions have been made on what, if any, personnel changes will be made at Fort Benning.
“I want to assure you that no decisions have been made,” he said. “I brief [Army chief of staff] Gen. (Raymond) Odierno and the Secretary of the Army (John McHugh) pretty regularly on where we are and the way ahead, and I can assure you your voice matters. What you say here tonight will be carried back.”
If sequestration remains in effect through fiscal 2019, Cloutier said the Army will be required to draw down to an active component force of 420,000 Soldiers and 920,000 total across the active component, the National Guard and the Army Reserve. Also, he said, the Department of the Army will be forced to reduce by about 26,000 civilians.
“Sequestration is the law of the land, and as such, we have a mission to do, and that mission is to potentially draw the active component force down,” Cloutier said.
Col. Karl Konzelman, also from force management, said the planned reductions would leave the Army at its smallest size since prior to World War II, a reduction of almost 150,000 Soldiers from a wartime high of 570,000 active component Soldiers.
“As we look at going from 490,000 down to … 420,000, there are only so many places where we can find the dollars, and that’s either in manning, equipping, modernization or training,” Konzelman said. “What scares the secretary and the chief of staff the most is sending our men and women into combat without the proper training they need.”
Konzelman said a potential worst-case scenario for Fort Benning could see a reduction of almost 9,500 Soldiers and nearly 1,300 Department of the Army civilians.
“Those are not your projected losses or your actual losses,” he said. “Rather, they are just cumulative totals for us to take and look at what the worst-case scenario could be at this installation.”
Konzelman said an initial review of the potential economic impact on the region indicated up to $727 million in sales and $8-9 million in sales taxes could be lost annually.
Cloutier said the session was intended not to gather data on potential economic impacts, but rather the story of the community’s area.
“We’re here to hear your voice,” he said. “We’ve got the data – we know how many ranges there are on Fort Benning, we’ve got the economic data, we know trends, we know how many square feet of buildings there are on the installation. What we need to bring back to the Pentagon and senior Army leadership is your story. We need to bring that context back. The Pentagon is a long way from Fort Benning and the Columbus area, so that texture and that story is what we want to bring back.”
Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson was one of the event’s formal presenters. She focused on the joint efforts between Fort Benning and Columbus, such as the construction of the Interstate 185 gateway, the construction of Fort Benning’s water treatment facility and various social programs aimed at supporting veterans in the community.
“I think you get a sense of why there are some 45,000 military retirees in this region,” she said. “It is one community. Your cause is our cause. We stand ready to bring to bear not only the 202,000 citizens of Columbus and our 3,000 employees, but in fact the resources of this entire River Valley region to support your mission. It is indeed one force, one community force, one fight.”
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia, a member of the House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, was also in attendance and spoke during the session.
“What we want you to know tonight is that whatever decisions are made, this community supports our Army, supports the Department of Defense and wants you to utilize the investments that have been made here,” Bishop said. “As you make the difficult decisions, we believe we’ve got the best, brightest, most ingenious, most creative people in any community in this country. We’re as supportive as anybody of our military Families and our military personnel. Please, take that back and let them know that the people here want this community to be Army strong and we want to keep Fort Benning Army strong.”
Retired Col. Bob Poydasheff, a former mayor of Columbus, was also among the event’s speakers.
“I am of the considered opinion that there’s no city and no region in this United States of ours that welcomes the Army and its Families, and does it with their good works, as Columbus and the tri-community area,” Poydasheff said. “Whatever Fort Benning needs, we will always help to accomplish the mission, especially seeing to it that the morale of the Family and the Soldier is enhanced. We’ll always be there for them. … Columbus and the tri-community is Fort Benning and Fort Benning is Columbus and the tri-community. Take that back to Washington.”
Cloutier said a final decision will be made later this year, with a potential announcement on reductions coming in late spring or early summer.
“We owe you nothing less, and you should expect nothing less from us, than complete transparency on our entire process as we move through this,” Konzelman said. “This is not something we take very lightly. We understand that every one of these decisions has an impact and a cascading effect that is felt on multiple levels.”