By Ben ShermanApril 25, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. -- The Fort Sill command, along with business, government and education leaders from Lawton and the state of Oklahoma gathered April 22 to provide input to Army representatives on the impact of impending troop cuts. The Budget Control Act of 2011 passed by Congress mandates that the number of Soldiers be cut, officially known as "Army End-Strength Reductions."
"The secretary of the Army and the Army chief of staff believed it was very important for us to come out here and listen to what the local communities had to say, and that's why I am here at Fort Sill," said Lt. Col. Patricia Tilson, Headquarters, Department of the Army.
The listening sessions are a series of events that HQDA conducted at 30 Army installations across the United States. Each of the installations has a combined population of 5,000 or more federal civilian employees and permanent military personnel. The primary focus of these sessions is to capture community input for Army senior leaders to consider as part of the Army's overall analysis, before final decisions are made.
Tilson was quick to point out that these proposed cutbacks have nothing to do with sequestration, or with the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process.
"It is strictly the Budget Control Act of 2011, which says that we have to reduce 80,000 troops by 2017. We are still looking at what the exact numbers will be for Fort Sill. We will take into consideration all of the Soldiers that are currently on the books as being assigned to the Fort Sill force structure, including those on temporary duty assignments," she said.
Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, welcomed Tilson and area leaders who were on hand to provide input to the process.
"The Army really wants to know what's on the minds of our area leaders and civilians in the community. The Army will cut 80,000 Soldiers, that's a fact. How those cuts will be made is still open for discussion. I think we have the right group of leaders from the Lawton-Fort Sill community to talk about that," he said.
McDonald emphasized the nation is at a critical point having ended the war in Iraq and concluding the war in Afghanistan.
"Now we have to figure out how to draw the Army down within the levels of the Budget Control Act and that's going to be a reduction of about 14 percent of the Army," he said. The Army has decided to take the following actions:
-- A draw down of at least eight Brigade Combat Teams, maybe more.
-- The first two BCTs to be eliminated will come from Germany.
-- Headquarters, V Corps will be inactivated upon its return from Afghanistan.
-- A reduction of associated support units in Europe.
McDonald then turned the session over to retired Maj. Gen. Toney Stricklin, chairman of the Lawton-Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce, who spoke on behalf of the Lawton-Fort Sill community. He pointed out the strong bond between Fort Sill and the greater Lawton community.
"I served at a lot of posts in my career and I know Fort Sill is just as great as any other installation in the Army. We don't take a backseat to anyone when it comes to taking care of our Soldiers, our Soldiers' families and our civilians. Fort Sill is a great place," Stricklin said.
"We are providing our initial input here today, and we will follow up with our congressional representatives and elected officials in Washington, D.C. We will try to keep this on track to be a favorable outcome for Fort Sill," said Stricklin, a former commanding general at Fort Sill.
Stricklin explained the Lawton-Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce used an economic model called REMI (Regional Economic Models, Inc.) provided by the Great Plains Technology Center, and determined that a cut of 4,700 Soldiers by 2017, would cause the community to lose about 5 percent of disposable income during the period, but that the most significant factor would be a total economic loss for the community of 30 percent, or $5.56 billion.
"Right now we get about $2 billion a year in economic benefit from Fort Sill being here. By 2017, that number would increase to $3 billion under current trends. But if they take those 4,700 Soldiers away, we will have a 30-percent reduction of economic growth," he said.
Other area leaders who made presentations were: retired Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, Oklahoma Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs; Lawton Mayor Fred Fitch; Dr. Cynthia Ross, Cameron University president; Barry Beauchamp, Lawton Public Schools superintendent; Clarence Fortner, Great Plains Technology Center director; and Phil Kennedy, Lawton-Fort Sill Economic Development Corporation chairman. Each of the speakers emphasized the importance of the relationship between the Army post and the greater Lawton community.
Aragon, representing Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, said Oklahoma provides more funds per capita than any other state to support Fort Sill, and the other military installations in the state. She added she and the governor believe it is crucial for Oklahoma and the nation to maintain the strength of the military.
Fitch pointed out that Lawton was recently rated as the No. 1 military community for providing jobs for retiring Soldiers, and also the top rated place for service personnel to retire.
Several educational leaders emphasized how having Fort Sill strengthens learning at all levels and helps give back educational opportunities for Soldiers and their children.
Stricklin went on to explain that there were big differences between BRAC and this round of troop cuts.
"BRAC was very good to Fort Sill. We gained the Air Defense Artillery School from Fort Bliss, about 2,500 Soldiers. But since that decision in 2005, we have lost two field artillery brigades, each with 2,000 Soldiers in them. And, we are going to lose two cannon battalions over the course of the next two years, which will be another 1,000 Soldiers. So, instead of gaining from BRAC and keeping that number at a high level, Fort Sill has actually had a net loss," he said. Stricklin added that he believes the cuts as a result of the Budget Control Act are going to hit the Lawton-Fort Sill area hard.
McDonald said he didn't feel any frustrations about the Budget Control Act of 2011 process. He understood it is necessary.
"Somebody is going to have to reduce some spending ... we all understand the Army is going to have to do its part. So that's why we have this process, to include everybody and get as much information as we can so our senior decision makers can make informed decisions," he said. "We don't know when the cuts will happen. The Department of the Army has got to make some decisions. They are going to take our input into consideration and then will make some decisions, and we'll inform everybody."