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Owens: Fort Drum “in good shape” as Army considers cutbacks
The U.S. military is in the process of cutting almost half a trillion dollars from its budget over ten years. The Pentagon says the cuts will lead to a more agile force with a new strategic mission. A new Army report weighs alternatives for restructuring that could affect Fort Drum. Under one scenario, the post could see an increase of 3,000 soldiers, but under another, it could lose up to 8,000 soldiers and 15 percent of its civilian workforce.
The Army is looking to decrease its overall troop strength from 562,000 to 490,000. The federal government is trying to decrease spending, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down.
The report considers changes at all of the Army's installations.
Democratic Rep. Bill Owens, of Plattsburgh, says Fort Drum has a lot going for it to stave off cuts, including a strong relationship with the community, and capabilities for aviation and drone training.
"My sense is that we're in pretty good shape. We've got a lot of advantages that we can bank on and put forward to the Army as reasons why we should in fact see an increase rather than a decrease," he said.
The Army's report proposes two alternatives. In one scenario, there would be straight reductions in the number of soldiers and civilian military employees. In that case, Fort Drum would lose up to 8,000 soldiers. Under another plan, each brigade combat team – a group of soldiers that deploys as a unit – would be bolstered with more troops, even while the overall number of soldiers in the Army decreases. Under that option, Fort Drum would would actually gain about 3,000 soldiers.
Carl McLaughlin heads up the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization. He says the civilian community has done a lot to accommodate Fort Drum's expansion over the years – and that's a big plus as the Army considers where to make cuts.
"Our schools had to create capacity. We had to create housing. We had to do some infrastructure work; we had to do some transportation work. We had to do some major things with our hospitals, because we don't have an on-base hospital. These community services had to be expanded. We did it," he said. "We did it."
Each community surrounding an Army post can submit a response to the report. McLaughlin says the Fort Drum area's response will highlight the region's rallying around Fort Drum as the post has expanded.
"The community's been a great partner - and that's what we're going to say. We don't want to lose anything, and we think we can take on more. We've proven ourselves a great partner."
According to the latest economic impact statement, Fort Drum contributes $1.6 billion to the economies of Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties each year.
Bill Owens says his office, the liaison organization, and the Army post itself plan to put forth a “united front” in support of Fort Drum.