Army to slash Fort Richardson Airborne Brigade by 2,600
Editor's note: This story has been updated from the original verison published July 8.
U.S. Army officials said Wednesday they will downsize operations in Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage by cutting 2,600 soldiers. An additional 75 soldiers are being cut at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.
Anchorage officials said the reductions will hurt but the regional economic effects are expected to be minimal over time. “This could have been a lot worse. They could have taken out the entire brigade of about 4,000 troops,” said Bill Popp, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.
The JBER reductions, part of an Army-wide cut of 40,000 troops, will be from the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division. The brigade is being “downsized” to a battalion, but no official announcement on that has been made. The total is a little less than half of the 5,483 active duty Army personnel at JBER.
Alaska U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, as well as Rep. Don Young, received calls from Army officials Wednesday informing them ahead of the official announcement, but Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz went ahead with a press release early Wednesday afternoon, prior to any official announcement from the Army or others.
Berkowitz said the municipality is ready to provide any assistance needed to military families and personnel that will be dislocated by the decision.
Popp said AEDC’s preliminary analysis is that the reduction will leave about 1,900 soldiers at JBER in a new rapid-deployment battalion task force as well as about 200 Army personnel attached to the Army’s Alaska headquarters unit, which AEDC has been told will remain at JBER.
“About 4,000 dependents will be affected, so the total number of people involved is about 6,500 including troops and dependents. That’s about 2 percent of our population. While that’s not good, it isn’t devastating either,” Popp said.
The effects will also be mitigated because the reductions will take place over time, he said. They will be mostly achieved through attrition, or soldiers ending their enlistments and not being retained.
Popp said the regional effects on housing are expected to be minor.
“There is a waiting list for on-base housing so we would not expect any vacancies there,” he said. The off-base housing impact is more difficult to judge.
“We believe there are about 1,700 soldiers living off-base and we do not know where they live other than spread across the Anchorage bowl, Eagle River and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. We believe that about 1,000 apartment units in the Anchorage area could be affected,” but the rental market is tight and as this will take place over time the effects will be mitigated by non-military growth in housing demand, he said.
Public officials quickly criticized the Army’s decision.
In a statement, Sen. Lisa Murkowski said, “Along with thousands of Alaskans, I find this decision devastating, far beyond what it means to our state economy, but what it means to America’s defense. It is staggering that the Obama administration is making such short-sighted decisions and ignoring the emerging threat before our noses presented by Russia, China and North Korea.”
Sullivan said he was putting a hold on a senior Defense Department official who was scheduled to be confirmed Wednesday.
“I am extremely frustrated with today’s decision,” Sullivan said. “But I take some solace that the U.S. Army left the door open to reversing this decision by not eliminating a full brigade from Alaska. While I understand these troop reductions reflect the Administration’s worldview of what the Army should be, I do not believe that the Department of Defense’s decision adhered to the Senate’s defense guidance in the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act).
“This decision was obviously made without a full understanding of the geostrategic importance of Alaska’s troops to our national security. Since day one, I have worked on the Senate Armed Services Committee to call attention to Russia’s increasingly aggressive military buildup in the Arctic.
“And as I’m sure President Obama would even admit, Russia is not a JV team and neither is North Korea. Like this year’s National Defense Authorization Act says, we need more forces in the Asia-Pacific — like Alaska — not less. These decisions need to be made based on strategy, not on bean-counting.
“Therefore, I have placed a hold on a senior DOD official who was set to be confirmed by the Senate today. I will continue the hold until I get answers to questions about how this affects our national security, and continue to work with our Congressional delegation and Gov. Walker to reverse this strategically misguided decision.”
Gov. Bill Walker had his own comments: “The decision to eliminate thousands of soldiers from JBER and Fort Wainwright will have harmful impacts on Alaska and the entire United States.”
In his statement, Walker said he is concerned that this decision does not recognize the military’s national security requirements in the Pacific, or the acknowledgement by senior Army officials that it would take “months” to train and prepare a force to operate in the Arctic if starting from scratch.
“By limiting the number of soldiers stationed in Alaska, we are reducing our nation’s capabilities when responding to matters in Asia and the Arctic,” Walker said. “We should be bolstering our military presence in Alaska right now, not making significant cuts to it.”