- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Army announced a massive restructuring of its force Tuesday, slashing 12 combat brigades and affecting military communities from Georgia to Washington state, as it prepares to cut 80,000 active-duty soldiers from its ranks over the next four years.

Ten of those brigades are within the United States, and two are stationed in Germany. An additional brigade will be cut, although Army officials said they have not decided which one. Brigades are usually about 3,500 troops each, but they can run as high as 5,000 soldiers.

The move will reduce the number of brigades from 45 to 33 and cut about 17,300 active-duty personnel in the United States and roughly 11,700 from Germany. Thousands of other jobs across the service in units that support the brigades also will be cut. Most soldiers in deactivated brigades will be transferred to other units.

Members of Congress whose districts will feel the impact from the reductions expressed disappointment.

Rep. Adam Smith, Washington Democrat and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the cuts to Joint Base Lewis-McChord will result in a loss of 4,500 soldiers. He called the Army’s decision a “major loss to the Puget Sound community.” He also blamed the House Republican majority for refusing to stop mandatory budget cuts, called sequestration, that will slash the military budget by nearly $500 billion over the next decade.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican and also an Armed Services Committee member, said he is “very disappointed” that Fort Carson in his district is on the Army’s list. But he added that the impact will be “considerably softened” because only 750 soldiers will be affected in a reduction of the brigade stationed there.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said his panel will review the Pentagon’s decision.

“We will carefully examine the implications of this initial restructuring, but we all must understand that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Much deeper cuts are still to come,” he said.

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said he sympathized with the lawmakers’ concerns.

“I know in the local communities it will have its impact,” he said. “But we’ve done our best to reach out to them so they understand what the impacts are. We’ve tried to make it as small an impact as possible for as many communities as we could.”

He said the Army is “undergoing one of the largest organizational changes probably since World War II.”

Before selecting the bases for troop reductions, Army officials conducted 6,500 hours of simulated combat in 34 scenarios. Officials interviewed commanders, assessed environmental and socio-economic impact and met with soldiers, their families and local leaders, Gen. Odierno said.

In addition to the bases in Colorado and Washington state, brigades will be cut at Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Drum in New York, Fort Campbell and Fort Knox in Kentucky, Fort Riley in Kansas and Fort Stewart in Georgia.

“We’ve spread it out quite good. And one of the reasons we did that was first, it allows us to have diversity across the United States and the way we took the brigades out limits the amount of impact,” Gen. Odierno said.

About $400 million in military construction projects also will be canceled, Gen. Odierno said.

The Army will begin releasing as many as 300 colonels and lieutenant colonels this year and about 500 captains next year, Gen. Odierno said. The “large majority” will leave by “natural attrition,” he said.

The restructuring is part of the Army’s plan to draw down its strength with the ending of the Afghanistan War. By 2017, the active-duty ranks will shrink to 490,000 from a wartime high of 570,000. National Guard numbers will drop from 358,000 to 350,000, but the Army Reserve will gain 1,000 soldiers to remain at 205,000.

These numbers would shrink further if the sequestration cuts remain.

“Full sequestration could require another significant reduction in active, Guard and Reserve force structure as much 100,000 combined,” Gen. Odierno said. “If sequestration continues into fiscal year 2014, Army reductions to end strength, force structure and basing announced today will be only the first step.”

Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report.

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