Joint Base Lewis-McChord will share in a sweeping drawdown that’s expected to cull 40,000 active-duty soldiers from the Army over the next two years, but not nearly to the extent that the local base and its supporters feared when the military first laid out its downsizing options several months ago.
JBLM will lose about 1,250 soldiers, according to four state government and congressional sources who are familiar with a plan the Pentagon presented to lawmakers Wednesday. The Army also plans to cut an as-yet unspecified number of civilians from JBLM’s workforce.
That’s a significantly smaller cut to the Army’s footprint in the South Sound than the military presented last year, when JBLM faced a reduction of as many as 11,000 civilian and military positions. A reduction of that magnitude would have cut about $1 billion in economic activity from the region, according to an Army planning document.
When the drawdown ends, JBLM will have about 25,000 active-duty soldiers. That’s down from 34,000 in 2011 but still more than the Army population at Fort Lewis before the Afghanistan War, when 18,000 soldiers served there.
Details about which units will be cut were not available Wednesday. But JBLM will retain its largest units, including its two 4,000-soldier Stryker brigades.
“This is what we had hoped for,” said Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson.
“We are a proud military community and JBLM will continue to be a vital asset to the United States national security strategy,” said Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia.
The drawdown plan reportedly has other news for the military in Washington state.
Two sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it calls for the Washington National Guard to replace its tanks with newer Stryker vehicles, fulfilling a request from West Coast governors and Washington National Guard Commander Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty.
Daugherty wants the Strykers because he considers them more useful in domestic emergencies than tanks. They would replace the tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles used by the 81st Brigade Combat Team.
Daugherty also has said that basing a National Guard Stryker brigade in the Northwest would open up better training opportunities with the two active-duty Stryker brigades at JBLM. Washington National Guard soldiers did not use tanks on their two deployments to Iraq, instead driving other equipment.
A National Guard spokeswoman on Wednesday said the state had not received an official notice from the Army that Strykers would be sent to Washington.
A copy of the Army downsizing report obtained by USA Today said the Army plans to move Strykers that are stationed in Hawaii to a Northwest National Guard unit.
Sources said the Army may not release a specific number of civilian job reductions at JBLM until the fall. USA Today reported that the Army intends to cut 17,000 civilian jobs across the country.
So far, local business leaders believe they’ve “dodged a big bullet,” said Gary Brackett of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.
“I wish we’d keep every job, but I can’t think the community would have a better outcome,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said she was disappointed that JBLM was chosen for any cuts in the drawdown because of its significance as the Army’s only West Coast base. She said she will work with government agencies to help troops and civilians make transitions to new careers.
The upcoming round of force reductions will give the Army about 450,000 active-duty soldiers, down from the 490,000 who serve today. At its Iraq War peak, roughly 570,000 soldiers served in the active-duty Army.
The next two years of cuts may not be the last for the Army or for JBLM. Senior Army leaders have said the forced federal budget cuts known as sequestration would cause them to slash another 30,000 positions for active-duty soldiers. Congress has not yet repealed those looming cuts.