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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Hoping to save its military facilities from painful cuts, Kentucky is spending $366,000 to study how best to navigate a reorganization of federal bases the Pentagon wants to happen in 2017.
The state plans to move quickly, requiring Alexandria-Va.-based Public Private Solutions Group to begin a review of Fort Knox, Fort Campbell and other installations in July and release a “growth strategy” by December, according to terms of the contract.
Kentucky officials believe the study will highlight the state’s readiness for a new round of Base Closure and Realignment, which the state Department of Military Affairs believes will be “characterized by little or no military construction and a drive by the military to save and/or avoid costs.”
Congress has yet to authorize a new BRAC, despite the Pentagon’s warnings that it needs to balance underused buildings and infrastructure with declining troop levels. But the Department of Defense plans to soon begin an analysis of its inventory that will serve as a “precursor” to BRAC, said Tim Ford, chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Defense Communities.
Ford said Kentucky is among a number of states that have embarked on their own studies.
“It’s becoming a very common practice in the past 12 months,” Ford said. “The majority of states with a significant defense presence are doing a similar sort of analysis.”
Kentucky military advocates say the contract will be money well spent, noting that defense-related spending in the state amounts to about $15 billion annually among large facilities and contracts with private companies.
“If we look at it in the context of the economy of Kentucky, it’s important -- because if one of these installations were to substantially change or be reduced, it would have an impact that’s felt across the Commonwealth,” said Retired Col. David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs.
“We have to be aggressive,” said Retired Maj. Gen. William Barron, executive director of the CORE Committee of the Fort Knox Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army. “There’s too much to lose by sitting back and hoping. We have to take the offense and be prepared.”
Fort Campbell in western Kentucky was largely unscathed by the most recent BRAC cuts in 2005. Fort Knox survived, but the post about a half-hour’s drive south of Louisville lost its signature Armor Center and School to Fort Benning, Ga., but gained the Human Resources Command.
Barron said he believes the upcoming work will showcase Fort Knox’s flexibility, such as surplus land for expansion and existing buildings on post.
“While other states are doing the same thing we’re doing, personally I think our installations – in the light of day – will fare better,” he said.
The federal base realignment program approved in 2005 brought a largely white-collar command to Fort Knox, leading to a “significant demographic change” that includes higher-grade soldiers and better pay, said Emmet Holley, the post’s deputy garrison commander.
By consolidating its 3,100-employee Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, the average civilian salary at Fort Knox climbed to about $50,000 a year, an increase of $10,000 according to post figures.
In 2009, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, moved to Fort Knox from Fort Hood, Texas, bringing an estimated 10,000 soldiers and their dependents to the region.
The Fort Knox weekday population now stands at 24,950, or roughly 4,000 more people than in 2005.
But the Army announced last year that the combat brigade is being deactivated as part of overall troop reductions. Four Fort Knox schools are to close and four others are to be restructured.
Fort Knox has recently added two Germany-based engineer companies, and the Army’s Recruiting and Retention School is moving to Fort Knox from Fort Jackson, S.C. The post is the new home of a summer ROTC training course that will bring “a couple thousand” undergraduate cadets and active-duty soldiers to the post by July 6, Holley said.
But those gains will be mostly neutralized by the loss of the “Duke” brigade. Once those soldiers leave, the post’s population will be only about 750 people higher than pre-BRAC levels, according to Fort Knox estimates.
Still, the investment at Fort Knox may prove worthwhile.
The Army built facilities for the combat brigade as part of an estimated $632 million in BRAC-related construction.Barron, whose CORE Committee advocates for the Army and Fort Knox, said “some of those will be available to other units that come here. We also have other buildings … that can be utilized.”
In fact, Holley said the post plans to use the brigade’s headquarters building and barracks to house the retention school.
Holley said the post’s ability to accommodate training classes like the Leader Development and Assessment Course, which is moving from Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash., may bode well for Fort Knox in the future.
“We’re being considered for a number of very good missions, in terms of training,” Holley said in an interview. He declined to provide details.
Military advocates say Fort Knox’s effort to generate its own power also may help the post during a new BRAC round.
By November, Holley said Fort Knox expects to complete a project converting methane gas from reserves beneath the ground into enough electricity for the entire post.
Fort Knox would use the power supply to offset costs during periods of peak energy use, Holley said, as well as during natural disasters and other emergencies.
“Regardless of what happens outside the gate, we will be able to sustain operations from an electrical power perspective without outside assistance,” he said.
Thompson cautioned that the new buildings and other investments at Fort Knox don’t guarantee the post’s future.
“I don’t think it’s wise to think that Knox is BRAC-proofed because of recent military construction, and, of course, logical and common sense that we talk about here might not apply so much in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “So we want to make sure we’re ready.”
The Pentagon’s push for a new BRAC round comes as the U.S. is winding down its involvement in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, where President Barack Obama last week said he plans to send military advisers to aid that nation’s army in an uprising by militants.
John Conger, the Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, said in April that the Pentagon faces a “serious problem” as a result of reduced budgets and troop levels and “limited flexibility to adapt our infrastructure accordingly.”
“We need to find a way to strike the right balance, so infrastructure does not drain resources from the warfighter,” Conger said in prepared remarks before a Senate Armed Services subcommittee. “Our goal is therefore a BRAC focused on efficiency and savings, and it is a goal we believe is eminently achievable.”
Kentucky’s legislative delegation to Congress has stopped short of backing a new BRAC round.
“I do not believe another round of BRAC is needed. Today’s headlines remind us that a strong military is critical, and Fort Knox plays a key role in our national defense strategy,” U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Republican whose 2nd Congressional district includes Fort Knox, said in a prepared statement.
Guthrie said it’s essential for Fort Knox to remain prepared, given Obama’s planned cuts to the military. “I continue to work with local leaders to highlight the excellent infrastructure and existing commands at Fort Knox.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is “deeply concerned over a number of the administration’s proposals to drawdown our conventional warfighting capability and believes another BRAC round would be harmful, as the nation currently possesses inadequate force structure to meet all of our strategic commitment across the globe,” spokesman Robert Steurer said.