- Associated Press - Friday, July 10, 2015

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Arizona’s Fort Huachuca will lose five percent of its force as the U.S. Army plans to downsize, but the cuts could have been much worse for the largest employer in Cochise County.

The Army announced it was cutting down from 490,000 to 450,000 soldiers nationwide.

At Fort Huachuca, that means 114 active duty personnel will be eliminated over the next two years. The military base is home to the Army’s Intelligence Center and its Network Enterprise Technology Command, the Army’s information technology service provider for network communications.

The military installation is a crucial part of southern Arizona, Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller said. With nearly 8,000 workers, Fort Huachuca is the county’s largest employer, according to the Center for Economic Research at Cochise College.

“That makes it pretty much the economic driver here,” Mueller said.

But the five percent planned reduction over the next two years could have been much worse, Mueller said. Fort Huachuca was recently at risk of losing 2,700 jobs as part of a large national shift known as the Army 2020 Force Structure Realignment.

The base has seen drastic cuts in recent years already. Fort Huachuca lost 2,350 full-time equivalent jobs between 2009 and 2014, according to an analysis put together last year by Robert Carreira, the director at the Center for Economic Research. That includes civilian posts as well as active duty. Since fiscal year 2001, Fort Huachuca has seen a 40 percent reduction in active duty personnel positions.

Sierra Vista and nearby communities rely on military and defense contractor jobs, Mueller said. In 2013, he said, Cochise County had the largest percentage drop in population than any other county. That was in large part because contracts with private defense companies in the area had been cancelled, Mueller said.

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, criticized the latest cuts, calling Fort Huachuca a national security treasure.

“Not only is Fort Huachuca an indispensable national security asset, it’s critical to Southern Arizona’s economy. The Fort directly supports over 12,500 jobs and over $2.3 billion in economic activity,” she said in a statement to The Associated Press. “That’s why I’ll continue to fight to reverse these dangerous and arbitrary spending cuts. Our country cannot afford to lose the capabilities housed and developed at Fort Huachuca; and our community cannot afford to lose the jobs they support.”

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