Listening session addresses troop reduction

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Fort Knox commander says country won't be left with 'hollow Army'

By Marty Finley

Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith said the decision to shrink the U.S. Army by 80,000 soldiers is one steeped in careful strategy but will force inactivation of at least eight brigade combat teams.

Smith, commander of Cadet Command and Fort Knox, led a community listening session Friday to encourage leaders outside the gates that the post is positively leveraged to benefit from the drawdown of forces from 570,000 in 2010 to 490,000 by the end of 2017, a directive issued as overseas wars in Afghanistan and Iraq come to an end.

Smith said the military has faced similar reductions in the past and he is convinced the country will not be left with a “hollow Army” once stationing decisions are made.

“You’ll be able to walk away with a sense of confidence,” Smith said.

The decision to draw down already has been made and bears no relationship to the federal sequestration or a 2015 round of Base Realignment and Closure, called upon by President Barack Obama in his latest budget, Smith said.

Beyond a reduction in brigade combat teams, the Army must realign its remaining forces to “enhance readiness, increase balance and flexibility, and meet the requirements of the nation’s defense strategy in a fiscally constrained environment,” according to Smith’s report.

The drawdown helps satisfy a roughly $487 million Department of Defense cut, around $170 billion of which is tied to the Army, Smith said.

“That’s essentially the glide path we’re on right now,” he said.

Retired Col. David Thompson, executive director and chairman of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs, said Gov. Steve Beshear and the state invested a quarter billion dollars in Fort Knox’s future because it believes in the post, and transportation and infrastructure improvements alongside its connections to rail, air and interstate travel makes it perfectly situated to retain the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat team and gain another brigade combat team should the Army request it.

“Fort Knox has the capacity,” he said.

Thompson said Kentucky also has put soldier-friendly policies in place to assist military families, including the allowance of several excusable school days for children with deployed parents. The state is available to assist and offset costs for the Army if it means protecting Fort Knox, he said.

Radcliff Mayor J.J. Duvall said the city is just like other military towns across the U.S., but it places a distinctive emphasis on the cultivation of retirees as residents, who understand the trials and tribulations of soldiers and their families better than anyone.

“This community wraps its arms around its soldiers,” he said.

Duvall referenced BRAC, saying the impact on construction was $10 to $13 million in 2004 but ballooned between $25 and $37 million annually by 2010-11 because developers purposefully invested in Fort Knox’s future.

It is ready to do so again to ensure Fort Knox remains stable in the midst of a force reduction, Duvall said.

“I guarantee this community, and this state, will step up and say ‘bring it here. We can handle it,’” he said.

Wendell Lawrence, executive director of the Lincoln Trail Area Development District, said the state made an investment during a recession because it believed so strongly in the post, which is an economic powerhouse in the region.

Lawrence said 54 percent of the compensation paid to Elizabethtown employees could be attributed to Fort Knox in some capacity based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Comparatively, one job is created off post for every two existing jobs at Fort Knox based on a 2010 economic analysis conducted by One Knox. Lawrence said nearly half of the roughly 3,500 soldiers assigned to 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team live off post in the region.

Retired Maj. Gen. Bill Barron, executive director of the CORE committee, which promotes the protection and growth of Fort Knox, said Fort Knox has spent millions updating its training courses and ranges and has plenty of room available to grow with 5,500 acres ready for development.

The post has spent millions to upgrade headquarters, barracks and company operations for its units, including $250 million for the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and $41 million for the 19th Engineers Battalion.

State Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said Fort Knox is a historic installation with a firm foot in the future because it has built synergy with other branches of the military, welcoming them to train with its units and use its training ranges.

“This post has an impact and footprint,” he said.

Smith said the comments gathered during the session would be relayed to Army leadership as it finalizes stationing decisions.

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