Campaigns weigh in on military cuts

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Potential losses at Fort Knox factor into Senate race

By Marty Finley

Kentucky’s secretary of state has endorsed a letter-writing campaign launched locally to oppose proposed cuts to soldiers and civilians at Fort Knox.

Alison Lundergan Grimes said Fort Knox is not just an economic engine locally, but important to the financial health of the entire state.

“These (proposed cuts) would be devastating to our economy,” she said.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Grimes, a Dem­o­­crat, said Fort Knox and Fort Campbell provide a significant economic impact in their regions, but they also provide touchstones to the American military that need to stay strong.

“With the state’s unemployment rate much higher than the national average, the commonwealth cannot afford for either of these installations to shrink,” she said.

In a worst-case scenario spelled out by the U.S. Army Environmental Command, Fort Knox could stand to lose a total of about 7,605 soldiers and civilians, including the roughly 3,500 departing with the inactivation of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.

Those numbers translate to the loss of 5,954 active-duty soldiers and 1,651 civilians. If enacted, more than 4,200 spouses and 7,300 children would leave the post with the reduction.

Those cuts would slash Fort Knox’s compensation by $431.2 million, dealing a lethal blow to the gains made by Hardin and surrounding counties through the BRAC initiative that brought thousands of civilians, soldiers and military families to Kentucky with large units such as Human Resources Command and Cadet Command.

Further fallout could be seen with declines in the housing market and reduction of school enrollment, costing teachers and staff jobs.

“Fort Knox is more than just an iconic landmark,” Grimes said in a news release. “With an economic impact of about $2.8 billion annually, the military base is a driving force in the Kentucky economy.”

Fort Campbell stands to lose even more, with around 16,000 jobs and $863 million prospectively on the butcher’s block, the Associated Press has reported.

Grimes urged Ken­tuckians to sign the letter, which is available at www.oneknox.info/letter/.

The goal is to reach 20,000 signatures by Aug. 25, when the public comment period ends on the Supplemental Pro­­­gram­matic Environ­mental Assess­ment.

That assessment identified significant cuts to the local post as a way to reduce the number of soldiers from a peak of around 570,000 to 440,000 or 450,000. If sequestration cuts are enacted in 2016 and beyond, the force would need to reduce to 420,000 by 2020.

Brad Richardson, president and CEO of the Hard­in County Chamber of Commerce, said those monitoring the letter writing campaign have been impressed with the earnest response, as nearly 4,200 letters had been collected through the weekend.

Richardson said the chamber’s One Knox policy council and other local agencies will continue to heavily promote the campaign until the August deadline.

Grimes says McConnell ‘inactive’

Grimes currently is embroiled in one of the most high-profile U.S. Senate races in the country as she tries to rally the state’s Democratic base and sway those critical of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in hopes of ousting him from office.

Grimes said McConnell has been “missing in action” when it comes to the military, leveling blame at him for the loss of the Armor School to Fort Benning, Georgia; the inactivation of the 3/1 brigade; and the most recent cuts proposed.

She claimed McConnell has been working in a spirit of self interest and has shown nothing but partisanship in Washington. In contrast, Grimes declared she would work to protect Fort Knox from future cuts and support legislation to put unemployed veterans back to work.

“This wouldn’t happen on my watch,” she said.

McConnell was unavailable for an interview Tuesday, but spokesman Robert Steurer said he remains a “defender and advocate of Kentucky’s cont­­ri­­­bution to our nation’s security.”

Steurer said McConnell recognizes how vital Fort Knox remains to the state’s economy and is “deeply concerned” about any plans from President Barack Obama and the Department of Defense to draw down the Army’s troop capacity in a manner that imperils the post.

“These proposed cuts to our nation’s defense capabilities are harmful to Kentucky as they could impact Ft. Knox and the surrounding community, but also to the nation as a whole, because we currently possess inadequate force structure to meet all of our strategic commitments across the globe,” Steurer said by email.

McConnell’s office said he will voice his concerns directly to top military officials and work with the Fort Knox community to leverage the installation’s assets.

In response to Grimes’ accusations, Steurer said Mc­Connell’s contributions have helped bring $14 million for barracks and dining facility improve­­ments, $75 million for impr­­oved research, technology and infra­­­structure, including a tank training range; and $5.3 million for air surveil­­­l­­ance at Godman Army Airfield.

Steurer also argued Mc­Connell has a long record of defending Fort Knox, appealing directly to the BRAC commission to not only spare the installation from cuts, but also bring a brigade, new commands and more troops.

McConnell further advocated for the relocation of the Leader Development and Assessment Course from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, to Fort Knox and fought to keep the Gen. George Patton Museum of Leadership in Kentucky, Steurer said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com