A decade of growth at Joint Base Lewis-McChord could be wiped away by 2017 if the Army carries out severe force reductions in the South Sound as described in a planning document released Thursday.
In a worst-case scenario, JBLM would lose about 16,000 active-duty military positions from its peak strength in 2011. That would include about 5,400 soldiers already gone through force reductions over the past two years.
That would leave the base with about 16,000 active-duty soldiers three years from now, fewer than it had in 2001 when the Army was building up its first Stryker brigades at the South Sound Army installation prior to the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The cuts would ripple out in Pierce and Thurston counties, likely removing about $971 million in annual income from the region as well as reducing sales tax receipts by about $17.4 million, according to the study.
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The Army is in the midst of a postwar drawdown that’s expected to reduce its total force from about 570,000 soldiers in 2011 to fewer than 450,000 in 2020. The number could drop as low as 420,000 if Congress does not repeal the next wave of forced federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
“The potential elimination of thousands of military and civilian positions is devastating,” said Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, whose district includes JBLM.
In a written statement, Heck urged a repeal of the sequestration cuts and said “the country depends on JBLM’s strength and full operation.”
The planning document that describes potential cuts to different installations is intended to give Army leaders choices as they decide how to reduce the force, said Cathy Kropp, a spokeswoman for the Army Environmental Command.
The cuts are not final decisions, and the Army is seeking public comments from military communities through Aug. 25.
“Every Army installation has the potential to be impacted, and JBLM is one of them,” I Corps spokesman Col. Dave Johnson said. “We’ve got skin in the game.”
Even so, the numbers used in the report are far more severe than the Army is contemplating. They would draw down the force to an active-duty strength of about 313,000. The report broadly takes 16,000 soldiers from each of the Army’s largest installations – such as JBLM, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Hood in Texas – while describing smaller cuts from smaller bases.
“The Army actually is not going to do the max numbers at every installation,” Kropp said.
But it does give the Army options for cutting, and “it does not eliminate the possibility that any one of those installations could lose the maximum number.”
In 2013, the Army published a similar report projecting cuts of up to 8,000 soldiers at large installations. At the time, Army leaders were planning for a total force of 490,000.
That cut led the Army to deactivate one of JBLM’s 4,500-soldier Stryker brigades. The base also has lost a 500-soldier artillery battalion and it is about to deactivate a 400-soldier aviation squadron.
The new report includes those reductions as part of JBLM’s share in the overall drawdown.
“I’m concerned about the local economic impacts it will have,” said DuPont Mayor Michael Grayum. “The military is an economic engine for us.”
He cautioned that the Army is at a fairly early stage in determining how to apply the force cuts and he noted that JBLM has some strengths to offer as the military’s largest base on the West Coast.
Fort Lewis had about 18,000 active-duty soldiers in 2003. The number of soldiers assigned to the base rose as high as 34,000 in 2011, after it was converted into one of the Army’s joint bases.
The base’s most recent data shows that it has about 41,000 military service members assigned to it, including active-duty and Reserve members of all service branches (mostly Army and Air Force). Of that total, about 27,700 are active-duty soldiers. In addition, it has more than 15,000 civilian employees.
The report is available at the Army Environmental Command’s website, http://aec.army.mil/Services/Support/NEPA/Documents.aspx.
People who want to comment can email USARMY.JBSA.AEC.NEPA@MAIL.MIL.