Army chief says Alaska 4-25 troop reduction should wait

  • Paratroopers assigned to U.S. Army Alaska’s 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, run through smoke to mask their movements while assaulting an objective at the Joint Readiness Training Center’s Peason Ridge on Fort Polk, La., Feb. 13.The U.S. Army Chief of Staff told Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Feb. 24 that the proposed downsizing of the 4-25 is on hold for at least a year to evaluate the strategic implications amid the current global threat environment. Photo Staff Sgt. Sean Brady/U.S. Army Alaska Public Affairs

U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said he wants to delay proposed force reductions at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson at least a year in testimony to a Senate committee Feb. 24.

The revelation came as Sen. Lisa Murkowski questioned Milley during a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing.

Army officials first announced plans to cut 2,600 soldiers from the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division, also known as the 4-25, stationed at JBER last July as part of an Army-wide cut of 40,000 troops. The full division stationed in Alaska is about 4,000 troops.

Milley, who visited Alaska military installations earlier this month, said increasing aggression and force buildup by Russia, particularly in the North Pacific, along with an “increasingly assertive” China and “very provocative North Korea” create heightened conditions for potential conflict in the region.

“I think it would be contrary to U.S. national security interests to go ahead and pull out the 4-25 at this time,” Milley said to Murkowski. “My thought is that we should extend them at least a year to see how the strategic situation develops and then move from there.”

He added that those beliefs were confirmed in conversations with on-site commanders and the troops themselves.

“There’s a great joint strategic deployment capability with the Air Force up there. (The 4-25) can move by air; they can move by sea. We’ve got a national capability up there (in Alaska) that I think is worth keeping,” Milley said.

Murkowski responded that Milley provided “very welcome news,” as the 4-25 Airborne Brigade Combat Team is the only such Army force stationed in the Pacific.

Further, Milley noted, as members of Alaska’s congressional delegation have in their fight to keep the 4-25 intact, the brigade’s strategic ability to reach East Asia and other parts of the world in less than eight hours from its position in Alaska.

Acting Army Secretary Patrick Murphy said to Murkowski that the Army has invested “a lot of money up there” in training facilities that are “second to none” and that he looks forward to working with the senator to fully resolve the issue.

Sen. Dan Sullivan said in a statement reacting to Milley’s comments that he appreciates the general’s willingness to evaluate how important the 4-25 is in protecting the country’s global interests.

“The 4-25 is the only extreme cold weather and mountain-trained airborne brigade combat team in the entire U.S. Army, and the only one strategically located to respond to threats in the Asia-Pacific and the Arctic,” Sullivan said. “This kick-in-the-door capability is vital to our national security and provides deterrence against increasingly aggressive actions from Russia, China and North Korea.”

Sullivan requested Milley reconsider the troop drawdown last year when the general was going through the confirmation process.

Sullivan also succeeded in adding an amendment to the defense spending bill requiring the Defense Department to draft an Arctic Operations Plan. He received verbal assurances from Army brass that the 4-25 would not be moved until the plan was complete, Sullivan told the Journal in December.

During an Armed Services Committee hearing a day earlier U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris said to Sullivan that without the 4-25 in Alaska that “I don’t know where we’d be if we had a major fight on the Korean Peninsula.”

The 4-25 also just completed a training exercise at Fort Polk in Louisiana with a full Airborne Task Force of nearly 1,600 troops to show the value of the full force, according to a U.S. Army Alaska press release.

U.S. Army Alaska officials asked branch leaders to consider training with the full force last year after the Army directed the 4-25 to downsize to an Airborne Task Force of 1,046 soldiers as part of the effort to restructure to a smaller, more agile force, the release states.

The release stated that the exercise at Fort Polk validated the 4-25 as “the only U.S. airborne unit in the Pacific region capable of performing forcible entry operations.”

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
02/24/2016 - 1:45pm

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