By John Ramsey, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Virginia’s Army installations have escaped mostly unscathed in the Army’s plan to cut 40,000 soldiers during the next two years.
Fort Lee will see its ranks dip by just 127 soldiers, Joint Base Langley-Eustis will lose 94 soldiers and Fort Belvoir will lose 250, the Army announced Thursday.
The largest cuts will occur at Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Hood, Texas, which are both set to lose more than 3,000 soldiers. The move will shrink the Army to a force of 450,000 soldiers by 2018, its smallest size since before World War II. The Army also plans to cut 17,000 civilian jobs through attrition and by leaving unfilled positions vacant.
“While I welcome the news that the Army has reversed earlier plans that could have resulted in thousands of job cuts at Fort Eustis and Fort Lee, I am mindful that we must get serious about getting our budget house in order,” U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., said in a statement.
He said the announcement “should be a wake-up call to my colleagues on Capitol Hill about the need for us to find a responsible path forward that restores budgetary predictability and allows us to invest in bipartisan national priorities like security, veterans’ health and fixing our crumbling infrastructure.”
Warner said that while some reduction in military force levels is to be expected as the U.S. winds down its combat role in Iraq and Afghanistan, “military leaders should be able to make decisions based on strategic needs and not based on senseless and arbitrary budget caps.”
The Army had a force of 570,000 soldiers as recently as 2012 while fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The mandatory budget-shrinking process enacted by Congress, known as sequestration, could require the Army to cut an additional 30,000 soldiers starting in 2019 unless it is reversed.
“The impact on Virginia is less significant than we feared, but I remain concerned that decisions like this have also been affected by years of crisis budgeting and other self-inflicted budgetary constraints placed on the Department of Defense — all prior to the emergence of ISIL, Russian aggression in Ukraine, rising tensions in the South China Sea and the Ebola crisis,” U.S. Sen. Timothy M. Kaine, D-Va., said in a statement.
U.S. Rep J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., whose 4th District includes Fort Lee, called the cuts reckless and said the announcement will leave Americans “far less safe.”
“Fort Lee is an integral part of the Army’s logistics capability, which enables our troops to protect American interests around the world,” Forbes said in a statement. “The men and women of Fort Lee perform an indispensable mission and their work should not be made more difficult by reckless cuts to our national defense.”
Fort Lee, located about 25 miles south of Richmond near Petersburg, could have lost nearly 2,800 soldiers according to an Army study last year. Local officials had warned Army leaders that such hefty reductions could drain $338.4 million in sales from the economy and possibly force teacher layoffs in neighboring Prince George County, where 1 in 3 students have military parents.
Under the Army’s plan, 3,207 permanent soldiers will remain at Fort Lee, which is largely used as a training installation. Fort Lee, home to the Army Logistics University, the U.S. Army Ordnance School, the U.S. Army Quartermaster School and the U.S. Army Transportation School — trains as many as 70,000 troops a year. Its daily population including students averages about 34,000.
“Considering we had the potential of losing up to 2,700-plus, I guess 127 is a workable number for us,” said Dennis Morris, executive director of the Crater Planning District Commission, which encompasses Fort Lee and helped rally local leaders to oppose potentially devastating cuts.
“We as a region always thought that the mission of Fort Lee, which is training the force, was critical to the overall defense posture. This would I think show us that those in the Department of the Army evaluated Fort Lee correctly.”