Military continues cuts and downszing

62d AW C-17 loading Army personnel from Joint Base-Lewis-McChord. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

On Wednesday, military officials are holding a town hall meeting to discuss proposed cuts at Joint Base-Lewis-McChord.

The Seattle PI reported that the base could lose a total of 16,000 soldiers and civilians, including the 5,000 that have already left.  Officials want to meet with the local community to see how the change will impact residents and businesses so the Army can decide what step to take to assist them.

The losses are scheduled to happen unless Congress retracts the current plan that calls for cutting about $500 billion in planned military spending by 2021.  Often turning to sequestration to make the cutbacks, military personnel are often laid off or not replaced upon retirement.

Rep. Adam Smith, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said general cuts to the Army are easier to pass in Congress than canceling individual military programs.

“Since Congress is not allowing those things to happen, then the Army’s got do to what it’s got to do,” said Smith, who voted against the 2011 budget compromise that set the stage for the Army force reductions.

Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, agreed.  “I’m pretty sure that sequestration is a Latin word for stupid,” he said.  This month he was given a seat on the House committee that makes major decisions about spending. “Making deep, across-the-board cuts without any thoughtful prioritization or strategy is another example of Congress failing to make the tough decisions.”

The Olympian reported that Smith said broad cuts to Army personnel, though unpopular in military communities like the South Sound, represent the “path of least resistance” for a Congress that wants post-war defense savings but won’t commit to reducing any specific military program.

JBLM now has about 27,600 active-duty soldiers assigned there, down from a peak of about 34,000 in 2011. The base would be left with as few as 16,000 soldiers if the full cuts now under consideration are implemented.

“Our mission is not over,” said retired Brig. Gen. Oscar Hilman of Tacoma, an Iraq veteran. “We’re going to a post-war world when we’re still at war.”

At JBLM, a division headquarters is adding staff to prepare for a possible overseas deployment, other units train for operations with Asian allies in the Pacific, and still others deploy in small numbers to Iraq and Afghanistan.

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