Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last week that the military wants to close some installations as its reduces its force size and winds down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The process is called BRAC – for “base realignment and closure.” A spokeswoman for Fort Drum said the post isn't commenting on the announcement, but Carl McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization in Watertown, about how Fort Drum may fare as the BRAC process takes shape.
The last big round of base closures, or BRAC, happened in 2005. Carl McLaughlin's organization acts as a liaison between Fort Drum and the surrounding civilian community. McLaughlin says that round focused on Army installations. Because of that recent consolidation effort, he thinks large Army bases are less at risk for closure this time around.
"Because that consolidation and concentration has already been done," he said. " It doesn't mean you'll have the same number of folks at each one of these – soldiers – at each one of these installations. They could be reduced by a brigade here or there or whatever. More likely, I see a reduction in the other services."
Along with requesting a new round of base closures, the military is simultaneously going through a process to reduce the number of troops. Decisions about force structure and organization are made solely by the Pentagon, and don't require Congressional approval. So Fort Drum may see some cuts in numbers of troops even if the installation as a whole will remain open for business.
McLaughlin is optimistic about the post's standing going into this round of installation closures. He points out brigades from Fort Drum have deployed 23 times in support of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since September 11, 2001. And the division's headquarters has deployed five times. McLaughlin calls this “a proven track record.”
"I think that what the 10th Mountain Division does is well-regarded, well-respected and highly used and fits into the national security of the United States for the future. It's just the kind of unit they need and have turned to repeatedly. So, is this the kind of unit they need? I think it is. Where are they going to house it? I think they're happy with where they house it. It's a great installation," he said.
McLaughlin says that doesn't mean his organization will proceed as if Fort Drum isn't at risk.
"I'm never gonna say Fort Drum is safe. That would be letting your guard down. No – we're going to advocate for Fort Drum, period. Never let your guard down," McLaughlin said.
The Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, and many other north country officials, will be fighting for Fort Drum as any new round of base closures gets underway.
Meanwhile, the uncertaintly has given pause to some housing developers as they pursue projects in the Fort Drum region. But McLaughlin says the uncertaintly this time around is far less severe than in 2005. For developers, he says, the region is still a “pretty safe bet.”
McLaughlin says the timeline for any decisions about base closures will be extended. The process requires Congressional approval.
"Because it's an election year, it's highly unlikely that it'll get the kind of attention that it wants until after November," he said. "And what Congressional approval is about really entails setting up all the parameters on which the military will be required to do whatever they're gonna do."