Fort Leonard Wood announces cuts, lawmakers react

2 years 10 months 2 weeks ago Thursday, July 09 2015 Jul 9, 2015 Thursday, July 09, 2015 11:31:00 AM CDT July 09, 2015 in News
By: James Packard, KOMU 8 Digital Producer

FORT LEONARD WOOD - Several elected leaders and organizations were responding Thursday after the U.S. Army announced it would cut 774 uniformed personnel at Fort Leonard Wood by the end of fiscal year 2017.

The reaction comes with the Army's announcement of the Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment (SPEA) results, and plans to reduce active duty soldiers to 490,000 from 450,000 by the end of fiscal year 2017. 774 of that total reduction would happen at Fort Leonard Wood.

According to the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership, which facilitated an effort to fight the cuts, the SPEA originally called for Fort Leonard Wood to cut up to 5,400 positions. The group said a total uniformed personnel of 450,000 would reduce the Army to its smallest size since the United States entered World War II in 1940.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R) said in a joint statement, "While budgetary constraints have forced the Army to make difficult decisions, today's announcement confirms what Missourians already know: Fort Leonard Wood will continue to play a critical role in the training and development of our troops. Key criteria, including an abundance of maneuver and training areas, the absence of encroachment concerns, optimal geographic location, and plenty of community support give Fort Leonard Wood a significant leg up over other installations for future Army missions."

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander struck a different tone regarding the cuts Thursday. He said in a statement, "As someone who served at Fort Leonard Wood, I'm deeply disappointed by the Army's decision to cut the number of soldiers at the base. The men and women that serve at Fort Leonard Wood provide unequaled expertise that makes our military operations more effective and efficient across the country. It is well known that the Pentagon has been considering making personnel cuts to the base, which made Senator Roy Blunt's decision to voluntarily leave the Senate Armed Services Committee this year so he could chair the Senate Rules and Administration Committee even more confounding. When the soldiers and civilian personnel at Fort Leonard Wood needed him most, Senator Blunt left his post so he could chair the insider committee that gives out office space. Senator Blunt owes the men and women who serve at Fort Leonard Wood, as well as the residents of the surrounding area, an explanation."

Kander is a former Army captain who served at Fort Leonard Wood from 2007-2011.

A spokesman for Blunt disputed the statement, saying the senator had served on the Rules and Administration Committee since arriving in the senate.

Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday, "While I oppose any cuts to Fort Leonard Wood personnel, the limited and proportional reduction announced today reaffirms this fort's core training mission and is a testament to the ongoing efforts by state, local and federal leaders to protect this vital military asset and the thousands of dedicated men and women who serve there. My administration will continue to work with our military and civilian partners to ensure Fort Leonard Wood retains its crucial role now and in the future."

Last month, Gov. Nixon signed into law a bill establishing the Office of Military Advocate within the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Nixon's office said the office would advocate for military services and the preservation of military bases in Missouri.

Fort Leonard Wood said Thursday the overall reduction of 40,000 soldiers would occur in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The fort also said the cuts contribute to a cumulative cut of 120,000 Soldiers from the Regular Army, or a 21 percent reduction, since 2012.

The fort said in a news release, "The Army was directed to make reductions, and did so in a strategically considered approach to preserve war-fighting capability and avoid a hollow force as the Army faces continuing fiscal pressures."

Officials said this spring, more than 2,000 Missourians, including local leaders, state and congressional delegations, soldiers and family members, attended the Army's SPEA listening session at the fort, to gather more information about the cuts. It was the second-largest recorded attendance in the country, they said.

"The announced reductions to active duty personnel, while significant, are lower than the cuts at many other Army posts across the nation and lower than the level of cuts Fort Leonard Wood experienced in 2013. This is a challenging announcement for the Fort Leonard Wood community, but we remain committed in our support for the fort along with its brave soldiers, families and civilians stationed there," said McCaskill, Hartzler and Blunt.

Dr. Brian Henry, President of Sustainable Ozarks Partnership (SOP), said, "While it is true that Fort Leonard Wood will see reductions that will hurt the region and state, it is important to note that many other installations fared considerably worse, in some cases losing thousands of uniformed positions. We believe that the announcement of a smaller number than originally estimated demonstrates the Army's understanding of the importance of the enduring value of the core training mission at Fort Leonard Wood."

SOP said 4,900 Fort Leonard Wood supporters sent written comments to the Army in August 2014, opposing any cuts. SOP also set up a petition on its website opposing the cuts. The organization allowed citizens to sign electronically and leave comments about the cuts. 

Joe Driskill, Sustainable Ozarks Partnership Executive Director, said, "We feel that we made a great case through the public comment period and the listening session as to why Fort Leonard Wood is a great place for the Army to do business. We believe that we showcased the installation's strengths, such as modern, flexible training areas and ranges that could accommodate expansion, zero encroachment issues, newly built and updated training facilities and barracks, and the abundance of natural resources that are necessary to accommodate current and new missions. We are not happy that the Army has to make cuts at all, but to lose far fewer jobs than originally estimated makes this bitter pill a little easier to swallow."

The fort's public affairs office said if current sequestration is not addressed, "End-strength will be further reduced to 420,000 Soldiers by fiscal year 2019... The resulting force would be incapable of simultaneously meeting current deployment requirements and responding to the overseas contingency requirements of the combatant commands."

Along with the military cuts, Fort Leonard Wood said the Army announced a reduction of 17,000 civilians in the Department of the Army. Fort Leonard Wood said Thursday the impact of the civilian cuts on the fort and other installations wouldn't be known until September, pending results of an on-going analysis on the effects of those civilian reductions.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the latest information and the headline has been changed to better reflect the story's content.]

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