- Associated Press - Thursday, March 20, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The commander in charge of the Army’s largest training installation warned Thursday that if a new round of automatic federal budget cuts moves forward and the Army becomes even smaller, Fort Jackson would lose about 3,100 jobs.

Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker told a gathering at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce such a dire step could occur if more cuts are allowed under the automatic budget reduction process known as “sequestration.”

“That’s just under half of our total workforce at Fort Jackson,” the one-star general said, adding that would translate to the loss of 2,400 military positions and 700 civilian jobs.

He has about 7,000 full-time positions at the base, which trains more than half of the Army’s incoming soldiers every year.

Becker was joined at the session by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Bill Bethea, the chairman of Gov. Nikki Haley’s Military Base Task Force., as well as top Chamber leaders.

“We are faced with a very unsavory situation,” said Bethea, who stressed that if citizens want to retain the $2.6 billion impact Fort Jackson has annually on the local economy, they should tell their congressional representatives they oppose such cuts.

The Pentagon budget was cut in a 2011 budget pact and slashed further last year in the sequestration cuts.

Many Senate Republicans voted against a measure in December to undo some of the cuts - but they also complained about home-town defense reductions after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced his plans to shrink the Army to its smallest size in 74 years, close bases and reshape other forces.

“We are deeply concerned that the policy of austerity will be limited to our national security at a time when what we need most is a commander in chief willing to lead in a dangerous world,” Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a joint statement earlier this month.

Another proposal that drew fire was Hagel’s call for a new round of domestic military base closings in 2017

At present, the Army is on a path to reduce to 490,000 active duty troops by the end of fiscal year 2015 and to 450,000 by 2017.

Becker said Army leaders told him last week that unless changed by legislation, additional sequestration cuts could be imposed in 2016, and the Army would have to draw down to 420,000 soldiers.

Such reductions would force an overhaul in Pentagon strategy, as well as how soldiers are trained, precipitating the Fort Jackson reductions, the general said.

Becker said he has plans to continue to train between 43,000 to 44,000 soldiers annually for the next two years.

Wilson said he is very concerned about the onslaught of budget cuts, saying they would “hollow out the military” at a time of Russian aggression in Europe, a potential nuclear threat from Iran and uncertainty elsewhere.

“We can see an unstable world, and the best way we can address that is with a strong U.S. military,” Wilson said.

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