Army officially delays plan to slash Arctic Warrior force level

  • Paratroopers assigned to U.S. Army Alaska’s 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, stack along a building while assaulting an objective at the Joint Readiness Training Center’s Peason Ridge on Fort Polk, La., on Feb. 13. On March 21, the U.S. Army officially announced it is delaying a proposed force reduction of 2,600 of the currently 4,000-strong unit. Photo/Capt. Richard Packer, U.S. Army Alaska Public Affairs

The U.S. Army has officially announced that it will delay the proposed reduction of 2,600 “Arctic Warriors” stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

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, last July as part of an Army-wide cut of 40,000 troops.

Alaska’s congressional delegation and state political leadership hailed the delay as a win for national security. The full division stationed in Alaska is about 4,000 troops.

All three members of the Alaska congressional delegation were sharply critical of the proposed withdrawal as short-sighted and potentially dangerous give current tensions on the Korean Peninsula and chilly Russian relations combined with that country’s military buildup in the Arctic.

“This is good news for Alaska — from the moment the Army proposed to eliminate the 4-25 Airborne Brigade I knew that it was shortsighted and the direction of world events would ultimately prove that,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a release.

“Whether measured by North Korea’s provocative actions this month, our discomfort with Russia’s military path, the need for troop strength to support the strategic balance to the Pacific, or emerging challenges in the Arctic, maintaining Army strength in Alaska right now is the right answer.”

Rep. Don Young praised the delay, but said Alaskans should not get too excited until the possibility of a troop withdrawal is completely off the table.

“While today’s announcement comes as great news for Alaska and the nation, we must not rest on our laurels,” said Young in a release. “Instead, we must continue to fight to ensure this reduction is overturned so JBER’s 4-25 can continue its status as the only airborne brigade in the Pacific.”

The announcement comes on the heels of U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley’s public announcement that he wants to delay proposed force reductions at least a year in testimony to a Senate committee Feb. 24, and statements by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to Sen. Dan Sullivan that he would support such a recommendation to halt the reduction if one were made by Milley.

Sullivan also succeeded last December in adding an amendment to the defense spending bill requiring the Defense Department to draft a formal Arctic Operations Plan, which is a complex undertaking.

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.

Milley, who visited Alaska military installations in February, told Murkowski on Feb. 24 that 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.

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.”

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

03/23/2016 - 3:29pm