Army fatigues are ubiquitous in Leavenworth, a town synonymous with the storied military fort that gives the place its name. But many of those uniforms could go away in the wake of an Army study that contemplates cutting personnel at Fort Leavenworth in half to meet budget cuts and sequestrations out of Washington.
Civic leaders are alarmed at the effect that would have at an installation that had an estimated $2.8 billion economic impact on the region in 2012.
“It is a genuine concern to us,” said Jennifer Daly, president of the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’re trying to make sure that the greater Kansas City area is aware that this is a threat.”
Communities around Fort Leavenworth, Fort Riley and dozens of other Army installations across the country feel new pressure to lobby the Pentagon about why their particular base is especially critical to the U.S. Army.
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“You can’t have a military drawdown and not have some impact on communities,” said Cindy Williams, a research affiliate in security studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The question is how those impacts get sorted out and how much of a voice local leaders and state governors have and how much legislators have to say.”
The Army study looks at the effects of possible reductions at 30 installations to decrease the force from about 490,000 to as low as 420,000. In a worst-case scenario, Fort Leavenworth’s baseline workforce of 5,004 would be cut by 2,500 soldiers and civilian employees.
Prospects are even more drastic at Fort Riley near Junction City, Kan. It could lose 16,000 of its workforce of 19,995. Fort Leonard Wood in central Missouri could lose 59 percent of its workforce of 9,161.
An Army spokeswoman said the numbers are meant to give decision-makers flexibility.
“The Army has no intent to implement the maximum number of reductions at each of the installations,” said Cathy Kropp, a public affairs specialist at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio who is familiar with the study. “But there is potential for the maximum cut at any installation. More than likely, every installation will receive a reduction of some sort.”
The Army is accepting public comments about the possible cuts through Aug. 25, and civic leaders here are encouraging individuals and organizations to send in plenty. But that is happening elsewhere, as well.
“Every community affected by these cuts is going to bring pressure,” Williams said. “They’re going to cut from somewhere.”
The Army is supposed to announce its decisions in June. That will be followed by a period of congressional review. The cuts are to be implemented in October 2015.
Jack Walker, deputy to the garrison commander at Fort Leavenworth, has been conducting briefings on the potential cuts, including one Aug. 7 at the Mid-America Regional Council. He said the direct salary loss of the maximum soldier and civilian cuts at Fort Leavenworth would be about $200 million.
But the impact would be greater than that:
An estimated 3,831 family members would also be affected, totaling a population loss of 6,355.
An additional 5,000 regional jobs could be affected by lost business.
Fort Leavenworth is said to be the single largest generator of airline tickets in and out of Kansas City International Airport and generates between 35,000 and 40,000 hotel room nights a year.
Sales tax revenue would also be affected.
Similar calculations are being made in Manhattan, Kan., and the Central Flint Hills region near Fort Riley as well as in Topeka.
“We’re taking it very seriously,” said John Armbrust, executive director of the Kansas Governor’s Military Council. Last month, he visited the Pentagon with Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to lobby for Forts Leavenworth and Riley. They met with the assistant secretary of the Army and other officials.
Leavenworth Mayor Mark Preisinger and others think the Army could save money by actually increasing the size of Fort Leavenworth, already the home of the Command and General Staff College. They argue the consolidation of other Army schools currently at other installations would reduce costs.
The Army will conduct “listening sessions” in affected communities beginning this fall as it looks at the value of each fort or installation to the service.
Walker said Fort Leavenworth, known as “the intellectual center of the Army,” should fare well in that analysis. In addition to training midcareer officers at the Command and General Staff College, the fort also writes Army doctrine and programs electronic war games.
A spokesman for Fort Riley, home of the 1st Infantry Division, known as the Big Red One, said the military’s mission will continue. The Army spent nearly $2 billion over the last decade to make room for the return of the division headquarters, and that sparked millions more in construction of private housing near the base.
“We’re going to continue to do what we need to do and what the nation asks us to do,” said spokesman Monte Volk. “We’re going to continue to prepare our soldiers to go do the nation’s bidding.”
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Comments on the Army reduction study, called the Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment, may be submitted through Aug. 25:
By email to firstname.lastname@example.org
By letter to U.S. Army Environmental Command, ATTN: SPEA Public Comments, 2450 Connell Road (Building 2264) Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston TX 78234-7664