Georgia to lose 4,350 soldiers as part of U.S. military retrenchment

The U.S. Army is planning to cut as many as 40,000 soldiers at home and abroad over the next two years — including about 4,350 in Georgia — as part of an overall military retrenchment, according to Army and congressional sources.

The Army would shrink to 450,000 troops by the end of fiscal year 2017. Meanwhile, Fort Stewart near Savannah would lose 950 troops, while Fort Benning outside of Columbus would shrink by 3,400. Fort Gordon in Augusta would grow by 40 soldiers.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said the cuts will make the U.S. more vulnerable amid Russian aggression in Ukraine and the war against the Islamic State.

“It’s a significant loss of force for the country,” said Isakson, who was briefed about the cuts Wednesday by Army Secretary John McHugh. “This continued weakening of our forces just makes America more vulnerable.”

The U.S. Army has said as many as 17,000 civilians could also lose their jobs as part of the retrenchment. An official announcement is expected this week.

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“The Army faces an extremely difficult fiscal environment,” Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, a U.S. Army spokesman, said in a prepared statement. “Failing to maintain the proper balance between end-strength, readiness, and modernization will result in a hollow Army.”

Daniel Grazier, a fellow at the Straus Military Reform Project at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, said the U.S. military is cutting personnel in favor of “big-ticket” weapons programs.

“It’s evidence that the Pentagon and the decision-makers have their priorities backwards,” said Grazier, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine Corps. “The priorities of the military should be people, ideas and then hardware in that order. This decision seems to flip that model to its exact opposite.”

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, a Pooler Republican who has Fort Stewart in his district, expressed concerns about how the cuts will affect U.S. security and he predicted the economy in his district will take a hit. Georgia is the fifth-largest military state in terms of personnel, according to Pentagon figures as of 2013, with 137,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian personnel.

“Any time you have a drawdown of troops on a base like this you are going to have a negative economic impact,” Carter said of Fort Stewart. “And it has a ripple effect throughout the economy. And it is tough to make up for that.”

Business interests in the Savannah area anticipated troop reductions at Hunter Army Airfield and at nearby Fort Stewart, said Bill Hubbard, president and CEO of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce. The Army installations, comprising about 24,000 soldiers and civilian employees, represent about $5.2 billion in purchasing power, he said.

“We expect to share in (troop reductions), but hope it will be minimal,” Hubbard said. “We expect we’ll fare pretty well.”

Merchants in the Columbus area were keenly aware about the cuts at nearby Fort Benning, said Gary Jones, the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s executive vice president for military affairs. The Fort , with 41,000 soldiers and civil-service workers, is the area’s largest employer and has an estimated economic impact of $5.5 billion there.

“There obviously are concerns out there,” said Jones, Fort Benning’s former garrison commander. “Those soldiers… buy an awful lot of cars, rent an awful lot of apartments, buy an awful lot of washing machines.”

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