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Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith did not sugarcoat his message Tuesday to an engaged crowd at the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center, saying the deactivation of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team will reduce the post’s troop strength to pre-9/11 levels, making up less than 1 percent of the Army’s staffing for the first time in years.
Smith, commanding general of Fort Knox and Cadet Command, held court for more than an hour as he braced the community for the worst. He said the net loss of about 3,300 soldiers and thousands of their dependents and family members could deal a blow to the local rental and housing industries. He also expects it to bring some amount of sorrow to the community as it adjusts.
Promotion rates are likely to drop for officers and enlisted soldiers and waiting periods between promotions could stretch longer, Smith told the crowd.
The net loss to Fort Knox from the deactivation of the 3/1 is about 43 percent of an active duty force that totals around 7,000, reduced to around 4,000 by the time the brigade combat team departs, he said.
This is compared to a 14 percent reduction to the Army’s overall force. Smith said Fort Knox will absorb an inordinate hit compared to the other installations that lost brigade combat teams because most of them have two, three, four or even five active brigades soldiers will be realigned into.
“We don’t have another brigade combat team to roll them into,” he said of the troops, which results in a 100 percent loss.
Smith did say there was a possibility some soldiers in the team could transition into another unit on post based on certain factors, such as individual preference and military occupational specialty. But he expects the majority to leave.
“We’ll get through this,” Smith said. “It will be painful for this community, it will be painful for Fort Knox and it will be painful for individual families.”
It is not expected to have a significant impact on the more than 10,000 civilian employees and contractors on post, Fort Knox Public Affairs Officer Ryan Brus said.
The Army plans to streamline the number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 33 with a possible 13th brigade on the chopping block.
The brigade combat team at Fort Knox was one of 12 chosen for deactivation by the Pentagon officials as part of a force reduction designed to scale the fighting force from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017 as conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down.
One brigade combat team will deactivate at each of the following installations: Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Campbell; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Knox; Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Stewart, Ga., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Two more are being dissolved overseas.
The reduction is in response to a $487 billion cut to the Department of Defense through the Budget Control Act of 2011, $170 billion of which directly impacts the Army.
It has been estimated sequestration could dole out an additional $500 billion in DoD cuts over a decade if not resolved.
Smith said the deactivation of brigade combat teams is only expected to account for around 17,000 of the 80,000 troops cut, which means other elements and units are at risk of cuts around the nation as decisions are made where to trim.
If sequestration rolls on without objection, Smith said, all bets are off.
“This is just wave one if sequestration doesn’t get solved,” he said.
In response, Cadet Command is restructuring by developing more rigorous curriculum and developing an initial officer entry training course beginning in 2016 that will take the number of cadets in the area from 1,000 to 1,500 to between 3,000 and 5,000 during summer months, Smith said.
The Army is assessing relocation of the Leadership Development and Assessment Course from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., which some officials has argued could improve ROTC training, reduce redundancies, save $10 to $12 million annually and place nearly 10,000 more people in the area.
In response to a question, Smith said he does not believe any of the posts current construction contracts are in jeopardy because of the cuts but he cannot predict what it could do to future projects. He did say the post has been approved for a roughly $250 million ambulatory clinic that would gradually replace Ireland Army Community Hospital by offering labs, X-ray and all of the robust medical services offered on post outside of inpatient surgical capacity.
Post officials have asked the Army for funding for a phase two project that would include an inpatient center, but Smith has been told Fort Knox will have to demonstrate the need for such a facility.
U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, who was in attendance Tuesday alongside local mayors and other elected officials, has asserted that inactivation of the teams may have been politically motivated, but Smith said he would not squabble over why one post was spared when another was hard hit.
Without divulging a lot of detail, Smith said a series of analyses were completed, including a military value analysis that ranked Fort Knox as one of about 15 BCT posts under evaluation, judging factors such as buildable acres, well-being, quality of life, training, geographic distribution and deployment capabilities.
While the post finished in the top third in well-being, it did not fare as well in some of the other categories, finishing in the middle or bottom third.
When one listener said the Army squandered hundreds of millions in resources building facilities for the 3/1 and readying the post for their arrival, Smith said Fort Knox will attempt to utilize those facilities as best it can once the 3/1 leaves.
But Smith said this does not mean Fort Knox is a bad installation or is not a desirable place to train. In contrast, Smith believes Fort Knox is a relevant installation with a crucial mission and important units such as Cadet Command, Recruiting Command, the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command and the 19th Engineers Battalion.
“We are the human capital hub of the United States Army,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@