LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In axing a dozen combat brigades in the face of steep spending cuts and the wind-down of two wars, the Army says it is trying to ease the sting by spreading it around.
But one post stands out on the list of 10 installations targeted in Tuesday's announcement of a major restructuring that has been a long time coming: Kentucky's Fort Knox. In losing the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, the famed post an hour south of Louisville will soon know what it's like to be an Army post without a combat brigade.
The elimination of 3rd Brigade means a 43 percent cut to Fort Knox's active duty force. That's far beyond the level of cuts elsewhere, but it could be a precursor to what other communities may feel if Congress allows billions in automatic budget cuts to continue next year, Army leaders warned.
"This decision will likely remove nearly 10,000 military employees and dependents from the area, which will have a profound economic impact not only on Fort Knox, but the surrounding region as well," Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said in a news release.
Officials said they will slash the number of active duty combat brigades from 45 to 33 as the service moves forward with a longtime plan to cut its size by 80,000. As many as 100,000 more active-duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers could be lost if Congress does not restore funding, the Army said.
Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said one additional brigade will likely be cut, but no final decisions have been made.
"I know in the local communities it will have its impact," Odierno said. "But we've done our best to reach out to them so they understand what the impacts are. We've tried to make it as small an impact as possible for as many communities as we could."
Larger installations with other brigades will, as Army officials noted, be better able to absorb the losses as the Army reverts to pre-9/11 troop levels.
Fort Campbell, on the Tennessee-Kentucky line, will remain the home of the 101st Airborne Division and other units despite losing the 4th Brigade Combat Team, which like Fort Knox's 3rd Brigade, currently has soldiers deployed to Afghanistan. Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas are losing brigades but, thanks to reassignments of many of those troops, will suffer net losses in their forces of less than 10 percent. That's also true for Fort Drum in upstate New York and Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia.
Under the plan announced Tuesday, the Army will increase the size of its infantry and armor brigades by adding another battalion, which is 600 to 800 soldiers. Adding the battalion was a recommendation from commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan who said it would beef up the fighting capabilities of the brigades when they go to war.
Fort Benning, Ga., on the Alabama line, will even see a slight gain in the size of its force thanks to the changes.
Overall, however, the military's largest branch is trimming itself by 14 percent over the next six years, from a high of about 570,000 during the peak of the Iraq war to 490,000. Besides cutting the brigades themselves, which number roughly 3,500 to 5,000 troops apiece, the Army will eliminate thousands of other jobs across the service, including soldiers in units that support the brigades, and two brigades in Germany that have already been scheduled for elimination. And it will relocate thousands of soldiers and cancel $400 million in construction projects.
Odierno said Fort Knox scored the lowest in military value, but insisted the reduction was not the first step toward closing the post. He noted that about 4,000 civilians workers had been added there, as well as the Army's recruiting command.
The total workforce of Fort Knox is about 20,000, including active duty and civilians, post spokesman Ryan Brus said.
Fort Knox has only been home to the 3rd Brigade since 2009, when it was relocated under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure. The governor questioned the fiscal savings when the Pentagon spent more than $500 million for new facilities for the brigade and improvements to the installation to accommodate their families.
"While I understand that the Departments of the Army and Defense must adjust to the current budget realities, this decision seems to focus on shorter-term savings at the expense of longer-term readiness," Beshear said.
Hall reported from Nashville, Tenn. Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.