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Fort Drum spared deep cuts in Army downsizing; 28 troops cut

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Julia Botero
/
WRVO News
Fort Drum will lose only 28 soldiers in this first round of Army cuts, but more cuts to troops and civilian jobs may follow.

North Country lawmakers say they're relieved after hearing the news that Fort Drum will take just 28 troop cuts as a part of the Army’s downsizing.

Compare that with several thousand cuts at Fort Benning in Georgia and Fort Hood in Texas.

Fort Drum’s more than 17,000 soldiers and nearly 4,000 civilian employees generate more than a billion dollars a year for the regional economy. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called the news in a statement, “a victory for Fort Drum and for the whole North Country.” 

Fort Drum officials and advocates thought a lot more troops would be forced to leave the base because of constraints on the budget. The Army has to cut the number of troops from 490,000  to 450,000 by 2018.  The question was from where. When the Army finally announced its decision, the communities around Fort  Drum breathed a sigh of relief.

“It is a fantastic decision for the North Country. You know the men and women who make up the 10th Mountain Division. They put us on the map,” said Carl McLaughlin, the head of the Fort Drum Liasion Organization. He says the decision proves the value of Fort Drum soldiers.  

“We are an essential power projection platform necessary for the defense of the United States. That is good to hear and we really like that,” McLaughlin said.

First–term Rep. Elise Stefanik whose district includes Fort drum and Watertown also applauded the Army’s decision.

"It’s a real win-win for Fort Drum. It’s a recognition of the important role that Fort Drum has in terms of our military training and readiness," Stefanik said.

The decision shows that the Pentagon is prioritizing the kind of light infantry, rapid deploying forces of The 10th Mountain Division. Its soldiers have adapted quickly to the kind of warfare the U.S. military conducts today like drone strikes and fighting terrorists like ISIL. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made that point back when he visited Fort Drum this spring.

“We’ve made big investments here. We’ve reaped the benefits of those investments in terms of benefits in terms of amazing power emanating from this place all over the world year after year after year,” Carter said.

Mike Plummer is a former Fort Drum Commander and advocate for the base. He says he thinks the Army really got a chance to see how important Fort Drum is to the community at the listening session back in March . That’s when thousands of people voiced their support of Fort Drum soldiers in front of Army officials.

“When you  have large numbers of military living off base there’s a tendency that hey become the soccer coaches, part of the emergency medical teams, the join voluntary fire departments, they serve on PTAs. They are woven into the fabric,” says Plummer.

According to Fort Drum the 28 soldiers to be cut will come from the deactivation from the explosive ordnance disposal and military police unit. And by trimming the post and garrison headquarters. The Pentagon still has to cut 17,000 civilian job.  That news will likely come out this fall.

Despite the good news, officials are still worried about  another round of cuts. President Barack Obama and Congress are deadlocked over further budget tightening known as sequestration. An additional 30,000 troops need to be cut.  Stefanik says she has fought hard to eliminate sequestration especially  given threats like ISIL in the Middle East and Russian aggression.

“It’s gutting our national security and our military, and it will not only force us to face potentially another round of cut, but it will frankly have a very detrimental effect on our ability to protect our national security," Stefanik sad.

Mike Plummer says the community has to continue to fight for Fort Drum despite yesterday’s good news.

“It’s one of those things that you need to continually beat the drum no pun intended because people get lackadaisical. Okay the threat is gone time to go back to sleep. But the threat is not gone. The threat is still there because of sequestration. Some people think this is the last cut. Hallelujah, we’ve been saved. But that’s not the truth at all.”

In the meantime, the Army says it’s going to start planning for the next phase of cuts. Fort Drum’s Commanding Gen. Jeffrey Bannister says the result could be that the Army’s will be less flexible and able to react to “strategic surprises."