Written by Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press
WASHINGTON - In a massive restructuring, the U.S. Army is slashing the number of active-duty combat brigades from 45 to 33 and shifting thousands of soldiers out of bases across the country as it moves forward with a longtime plan to cut the size of the service by 80,000 soldiers.
Officials say the sweeping changes would eliminate brigades at 10 Army bases in the U.S. by 2017, including the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell on the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Other bases affected are Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Stewart in Georgia, Fort Carson in Colorado, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Drum in New York, Fort Riley in Kansas, Fort Knox in Kentucky and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. The Army also will cut thousands of other jobs across the service, including soldiers in units that support the brigades, and two brigades in Germany have already been scheduled for elimination.
The Army is being reduced in size from a high of about 570,000 during the peak of the Iraq war to 490,000 as part of efforts to cut the federal budget and reflect the country's military needs as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end. Additional reductions could be required if Congress allows automatic budget cuts to continue into next year.
While the cuts may have less impact at some of the Army's larger bases such as Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, they could be more painful for communities around some of the smaller installations such as Fort Knox, where only one brigade is based.
The 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell traces its lineage back to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was activated in 1942. Soldiers from the regiment serving in World War II were made famous in historian Stephen Ambrose's book "Band of Brothers."
Bigger infantry, armor brigades
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 in times of war.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said he was disappointed by the plan to inactivate the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Knox.
"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," he said in a prepared statement.
A brigade is usually about 3,500 soldiers, but can be as large as 5,000 for the heavily armored units.
Forced reductions still a possibility
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, has said he hopes to be able to cut the 80,000 soldiers through voluntary departures, without forcing troops to leave the service. But Army leaders have not ruled out forced reductions.
The cuts do not affect National Guard or Reserve brigades and units.
Officials said the decisions on the cuts were based on a variety of factors, including required training resources, ranges, air space, infrastructure, and the need to put units near leadership and headquarters units.