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Army poised to cut 3/1

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Fort Knox would lose 3,500 soldiers as one of 10 posts to drop a brigade

By Sarah Bennett

Fort Knox will lose its only combat brigade and more than 3,000 soldiers could transfer from the Hardin County area as part of a massive restructuring in the U.S. Army.

As part of its announcement Tuesday, the Army listed plans to deactivate the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division by fiscal year 2017.

The 3,500 soldiers in the brigade will transfer to other units as other combat teams increase their ranks, said Ryan Brus, public affairs officer at Fort Knox. About 2,300 of those soldiers currently are deployed throughout Afghanistan.

“Fort Knox remains critical to accomplishing our Army’s missions,” said Maj. Gen. Jeff Smith, U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox commanding general. “And as Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said today, Fort Knox is a vital installation as the U.S. Army’s human capital hub – home to U.S. Army Cadet Command, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, and U.S. Army Human Resources Command, among other outstanding tenant units and organizations.”

According to Brus, the 3/1 brigade, also known as the Duke Brigade, transferred in 2009 from Fort Hood, Texas, to Fort Knox. Since arriving at Fort Knox, the brigade has deployed twice to Afghanistan.

Fort Knox is one of 10 U.S. posts losing combat brigades, Brus said. Two posts in Germany are set to deactivate brigades by the end of this fiscal year.

Fort Campbell also will lose a brigade as well as Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Carson, Colo., Fort Drum, N.Y., Fort Riley, Kan., Fort Stewart, Ga., Fort Bragg, N.C., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., he said.

The cuts come as the Army is reducing its active force by 80,000 soldiers, according to a Fort Knox statement. As part of these efforts, the military is reducing its brigade combat teams from 45 to 32, with one of the brigades not identified yet.

In a statement released Tuesday, Gov. Steve Beshear said he was “deeply disappointed” by the Department of Defense’s decision to deactivate the 3/1 brigade.

“This decision will likely remove nearly 10,000 military employees and dependents from the area, which will have a profound impact not only on Fort Knox, but the surrounding region as well,” Beshear said.

U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie echoed Beshear’s sentiment.

“This cut was the direct result of the President’s Defense Planning Guidance of 2012,” Guthrie said in a news release. “Fort Knox is a unique facility and losing this unit of soldiers will significantly affect not only Hardin County but the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Brad Richardson, president of the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce, said while he is disappointed in the future disbandment of the 3/1 brigade, Fort Knox continues to be a “vital economic engine” for Hardin County and an important national defense asset.

“It has been our community’s great privilege to support and care for the soldiers and family members associated with 3/1 during their time at Fort Knox and through multiple deployments,” Richardson wrote in an email. “We will continue to do so throughout the remainder of their time here.”

Hardin County Judge-Executive Harry Berry said much of the details remain up in the air, such as when the 3/1 brigade will be deactivated.

“Obviously, anytime that many jobs and than many personnel are leaving the area, it has an impact,” Berry said.

The Hardin County area has experienced much growth in recent years because of changes at Fort Knox, he said. Moreover, while the national economy suffered, Berry said Hardin County continued to grow.

“We’ll survive this quite well also,” he said. “We appreciate the opportunity to provide help to these soldiers.”

OTHER CUTS EXPECTED.

Under the plan announced Tuesday, the Army will increase the size of its infantry and armor brigades by adding another battalion, which is 600 to 800 soldiers. Adding the battalion was a recommendation from commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan who said it would beef up the fighting capabilities of the brigades when they go to war.

The Army will also cut thousands of other jobs across the service, including soldiers in units that support the brigades.

“While I understand that the Departments of the Army and Defense must adjust to the current budget realities, this decision seems to focus on shorter term savings at the expense of longer term readiness,” Beshear said.

The service moves forward with a longtime plan to cut the size of the service by 80,000. And they warned more cuts — of as many as 100,000 more active duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers — could be coming if Congress allows billions of dollars in automatic budget cuts to continue next year.

Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said one additional brigade likely will be cut, but no final decisions have been made.

“I know in the local communities it will have its impact,” Odierno told reporters Tuesday. “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.”

The Army is being reduced in size from a high of about 570,000 during the peak of the Iraq war to 490,000 as part of efforts to cut the budget and reflect the country’s military needs as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end. Odierno said the potential 100,000 more would be spread out across the active duty, Guard and Reserves, and that there also could be reductions in the Army’s 13 aviation brigades.

Odierno said the Army tried to spread out the cuts geographically. He said Fort Knox scored the lowest in military value, but insisted the reduction was not the first step toward closing the base. He noted about 4,000 civilians workers had been added there, as well as the Army’s recruiting command.

The overall cut in size has been known for more than a year, and Army leaders have been working on how to manage the reduction, conducting local community meetings across the country and releasing an extensive study on the issue earlier this year.

Odierno said he continues to hope he will be able to cut the 80,000 soldiers largely through voluntary departures. He said he believes he will have to force several hundred officers to leave in order to get the proper number of soldiers at various ranks. But, if the automatic cuts go forward, Odierno said he would likely have to force soldiers out of the Army.

These initial brigade cuts do not affect National Guard or Reserve units.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.