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Fort Drum turns to community for help to try to limit personnel cuts

Julia Botero

The Defense Department is taking another hard look at the size of the Army, including at Fort Drum. Defense cuts fueled by sequestration requires that the Army cut 20,000 troops every year for the next three years. Fort Drum could lose as many 16,000 soldier and civilian jobs in that time. Fort Drum is gearing up for what’s called a listening session this Friday with hopes it will save them from the full cuts.

Think of it as a mix between a town hall meeting and a pep rally. All of Jefferson County is invited. Government leaders will be there along with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro), Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) and Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld). And the Army is sending their own representative.  

Garrison Commander Col. Gary Rosenberg says people should focus on what sets Fort Drum apart from other bases around the country.

“We live in the community, we go to school in the community, we go to same hospitals everyone else does and its really nice and comforting to know people care, they want us here and we are part of this community as well.”

Two years ago the number of soldiers in the Army was at its highest since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army cut troop strength at bases around the country as those combat missions came to a close.  Soldiers at Fort Drum were lucky. Relatively few were asked to leave in this first round of cuts. Rosenberg says this time jobs at Fort Drum may be hit harder.

“Last time we had a good idea of what the impact was going to be. This time we don’t have a good idea of where these cuts are going to be taken or how large they are going to be in the locations where they are taken, ” Rosenberg said.  

Rosenberg and his staff say they would like to avoid as many of those 16,000 losses as possible. “That number is driven by sequestration. That is not a number the Army would like to go to.”

That’s why they’re looking for help from the civilians who live near the base. Rosenberg says talking about how Fort Drum jobs have helped  the community, and how the community has helped improve life at Fort Drum will work in the base’s favor. 

“What I will tell you is that people ought to highlight that because that stands out. Not every place is like that. That is what makes Fort Drum different.”

A report by Fort Drum officials states that the base pays a total of $1.3 billion every year to its civilian employees, soldiers and contractors. Rosenberg says cuts on the post would mean less money flowing into the community. That could lead to a loss of civilian jobs that provide services soldiers and their families.

“Because we are such a large organization with such a big impact in a small area the economic area of pulling us out is proportionally larger than it would be somewhere else. To use a bogus number, if you took 16,000 people out of New York City they wouldn't even notice. If you took 16,000 people out of Watertown, they'd know it immediately, ” Rosenberg said.

But how much impact will this listening session have in the Army's decision of what to cut and where? Rosenberg says he's not sure, but he says the community support will play a big role.  He says the funds Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised for improvements around Fort Drum this year is money that’s not coming out of the Army's pocket. The same goes for the hospitals off base that take care of soldiers.

The more help that comes from the state and the community, the less of a financial burden Fort Drum is on the Army. And the better it looks to the people deciding where to cut those 20,000 troops each year.  

Fort Drum’s listening session is Friday, March 20 at Jefferson Community College. First there will be an outdoor rally at 5 p.m. (doors open at 4:30 p.m.) Doors open for the listening session at 5 p.m.