Proposed Defense Cuts Could Impact Mo. Communities

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KNOB NOSTER - After U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for a large-scale shrinking of the army Monday, KOMU 8 News learned Tuesday proposed cuts could have economic consequences for communities all over the state.

In announcing the Pentagon's 2015 budget proposal, Hagel said the army could eventually shrink from a wartime peak of 570,000 members to 450,000. If the number of troops drops to that figure, the army would be at its smallest size since just before World War II. The defense department is shrinking its budget because Congress mandated reductions in defense spending as part of the Budget Control Act, or sequester.

"We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the U.S.," Hagel said Monday.

The cuts could affect several air combat units within the Missouri Army National Guard. The 35th Combat Aviation Brigade has units based in Springfield, Lebanon and at Whiteman Air Force Base and 402 active duty personnel work in those units. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri wrote a letter to Hagel, saying eliminating the units could deliver a $34 million blow to the military communities.

"We write to express our deep concern with the Department of the Army's proposal to cut Army National Guard combat aviation assets and force structure," wrote 12 U.S. senators. "This shortsighted approach creates unnecessary risk to our national security at the expense of incredibly capable attack aviation assets in the Army National Guard."

Hagel also said the department recommends phasing out use of the A-10 Warthog fighter plane. The department said that could cut out $3.5 billion in federal spending.

Whiteman AFB in Johnson County hosts A-10 jets and more than 1,000 personnel work with the planes there.

Dianne Simon chairs the Sedalia Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee. Simon told KOMU 8 News Tuesday west-central Missouri communities fear the A-10 personnel leaving Whiteman.

"We see them every day in the stores and in our restaurants eating," Simon said. "Those people would be gone so that's going to affect our local businesses - it's going to have a huge local impact on us."

Hagel will forward his recommendations to President Obama. The president will use them to craft his budget proposal, which he is expected to reveal next week.

Congress has already agreed the Pentagon should spend just under $500 billion in the 2015 federal budget year, but now Congress need to decide how to spend it.