What Others Are Saying

Georgia is on the losing end of the Army’s plan to slash 40,000 soldiers and 17,000 civilian employees in a little more than three years. The word “devastating” has been used before concerning military cuts, but this time the word is “draconian.”

The six hardest-hit installations around the country include Fort Benning at Columbus, long a mainstay of Army training. Benning is facing a cut of about 3,402 soldiers. In addition, Fort Stewart at Hinesville will lose about 950 soldiers. That means Georgia will lose a total of some 4,350 soldiers at two bases. Major cuts elsewhere are: 3,350 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, 2,631 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, 1,251 in Hawaii, and 1,219 at Fort Bliss, Texas.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., has mounted a counter-offensive, demanding answers from the Defense Department “on how they are justifying these troop cuts in Georgia.” Congress was not given advance notice of the latest troop-cut announcement. Consequently, Isakson said he has “taken steps to block a Senate vote on the president’s nomination of a new congressional liaison for the Department of Defense in light of the department’s failure to give Congress a heads up before these cuts were made public.” Whether that will change anything remains to be seen.

Georgia’s senior senator pledged to continue “to fight to see to it that we preserve every soldier in Georgia that we can.” He zeroed in on the overriding concern about still more cuts in our nation’s military forces. “We cannot afford to reduce our military readiness at a time when the threats to our security here at home and throughout the world are growing at an alarming rate,” he said. “Instead, we should be using our military to send a clear signal to the rest of the world that America has no intention of standing down in the fight against the threat of terrorism worldwide.” He’s right on target.

Consider that the regular army in 2012 had about 570,000 soldiers. In 2013, a drawdown of 80,000 was announced by the Defense Department, to be completed by the end of FY 2017 (Sept. 30, 2017).

The newest round of cuts of 40,000 will reduce the force to 450,000 by the end of FY 2018, the Army says.

Sen. Isakson and many of his colleagues in Congress are right about the folly of continuing to slash our armed forces in the face of growing threats from ISIS, Russia and North Korea and other quarters. That’s the primary concern. Yet Congress is between the old rock and hard place since the 2011 budget compromise — the dreaded “sequestration” — set automatic spending cuts for the military.

Brig. Gen. Randy George, the Army’s director of force management, said last week if sequestration continues, the Army will shrink to about 420,000 soldiers in 2019. He cited comments by the Army chief of staff that cutting below 450,000 “would be significant risk” for the Army in terms of current combatant commander requirements and “being ready for the unknowns.” The Army said it is now able to “respond to a variety of scenarios and multiple scenarios at the same time”— meaning more than one war. “An end strength of 420,000 will mean this is no longer possible.” That is a scary scenario, given the current threats that can be expected to continue indefinitely, especially absent major American involvement.

In addition to fighting force reductions affecting virtually every Army installation in the world, the loss of 17,000 civilian employees will strike a heavy blow to the economy of communities so intertwined and interdependent as Fort Benning and Columbus. Especially will the impact be felt in this time of slow growth and economic uncertainty.

Today’s declining military presence in Georgia sharply contrasts with the heyday of its dominance in Congress on national defense issues — a time when it was jokingly said that if the state got any more military bases it would have to be double-decked. During World War II and long afterward, every major Georgia city had a military installation, pumping energy into the economy. Now our congressional delegation has to fight for even the survival of the remaining, steadily dwindling installations.

We can only hope our senators and congressmen will be successful in the face of a White House bent on reducing America’s military might at the worst possible time.