Fort Knox to gain troops despite nationwide cuts, small loss at Fort Campbell
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky’s two U.S. Army installations were largely unscathed as part of sweeping changes announced Thursday that will result in a nationwide loss of about 40,000 troops.
Fort Knox, about a half-hour south of Louisville, stands to gain 67 soldiers by fiscal 2017 – one of only four facilities to see a troop increase, according to Army documents. Fort Campbell, which covers parts of Kentucky and Tennessee, will lose more than 350 troops, although officials were bracing for deeper cuts.
The announcement brought some relief to the Fort Knox community, where the Army has shuffled commands in the past decade as part of cuts and shifting missions. At El Camino's on Lincoln Trail in Radcliff, owner Luis Bravo said more than half of the Mexican restaurant's customers Thursday morning were "Army people."
"We were just like everyone else, kind of waiting to hear if there was a potential for cuts…fortunately we got positive news," Bravo said.
Fort Knox and Fort Campbell are still bracing for an uncertain future, including the possibility of a new base realignment moves and 17,000 nationwide civilian jobs the Army plans to cut, mostly through attrition, by 2017. But retired Army Col. Dave Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs, said the Army's decision this week to largely spare the two posts bodes well.
“This speaks to the enduring value of these installations,” said retired Army Col. Dave Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs. “This is a win for Kentucky.”
He said Fort Knox and Fort Campbell have “the right set of capabilities, the right location, right communities surrounding them.”
Fort Knox has largely reinvented itself in the past decade. After losing its Armor Center and School to Fort Benning, Ga., following the Army’s 2005 Base Closure and Realignment, it gained the Human Resources Command, engineering companies and a recruiting school, among other additions.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, also moved to Fort Knox before later being deactivated.
The post is expected to have 4,777 troops in fiscal 2017. While that’s an increase from the current soldier population, Fort Knox still would be down 25 percent from 2001 levels.
"The tremendous community support and the strong leadership at Fort Knox have ensured that this award-winning and unique institution remains central to the Army’s mission," U.S Rep Brett Guthrie, R-2nd District, said in a statement Thursday.
But, he said, “This news is very concerning given the growing threats our country faces overseas."
Rep. Jeff Greer, a Brandenburg Democrat, said Fort Knox’s ability to take on new missions could work in its favor if the Army enacts a new round of base cuts.
“We think that our base is the most convertible base in the country,” he said. “It’s just wonderfully situated (with) different kind of terrain that they can do any kind of training, so we’re encouraged.”
Fort Campbell could have seen as many as 16,000 troops slashed from current levels of about 26,400. The Army’s slight cuts still mean the post would have about 14 percent more troops in 2017 than it did in 2001, according to documents.
State Sen. Whitney Westerfield and Rep. John Tilley, who represent the Fort Campbell area, said they were “thrilled” by the relatively minor reductions.
“I’m thankful to see a three-digit number instead of a five-digit number,” said Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville.
He said a more severe troop reduction at Fort Campbell would have damaged the local and state economy and national defense.
Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat, said a “listening session” held at Fort Campbell was so crowded the post had to turn people away.
“Our presentation, from what we understand, not only was supported by the largest crowds but I think was the most effective – and I say that understanding that Elizabethtown, Radcliff, Brandenburg … had a good one as well.”
According to a memo sent to members of Congress, the cuts are "driven by fiscal constraints resulting from the Budget Control Act of 2011 and defense strategic and budgetary guidance." The reductions represents a decrease of 120,000 soldiers, or 21 percent, since 2012.
At Fort Campbell, an explosive ordinance disposal company from the 52nd EOD Group will be deactivated; the size of the 101st division headquarters will be reduced; and other small training and base support operations will be downsized. Commanding officers are "not aware of any civilian reductions" at this time, Fort Campbell officials said in a statement.
The memo sent to Congressional members says the cuts will affect nearly every Army installation, both in the United States and abroad.
"While the Army does not desire to make reductions, they are necessary to preserve warfighting capability and avoid a hollow force as the Army reduces end-strength due to continuing fiscal pressures. In addition to reorganizing the operational force, the Army is reducing the size of two-star-and-above headquarters, shrinking the generating force, and cutting the civilian workforce," the memo said.
There could still be more cuts in the future. The memo says if sequestration is not addressed, the Army will be reduced to soldier levels of 420,000 by the end of fiscal year 2019, or a 26 percent cut over a seven-year period.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an emailed statement Thursday that he remained "deeply concerned that the Obama administration's far-reaching cuts to our armed forces are dangerous to our country's national security, particularly in light of significant conflict across the globe."
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3rd District, said in a statement that the impact of the Army reductions on civilian employment won't be known until September or October, "but the concern doesn't end there."
"If Congress doesn't stop the scheduled sequestration budget cuts from being implemented over the next several years, we should brace ourselves for more rounds of substantial downsizing at our military faciltities," he said.
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