As Brig. Gen. Roger Cloutier Jr. sat on the dais before 2,000 or so Fort Jackson supporters at Shandon Baptist Church Thursday, he faced a conundrum.
Cloutier is the U.S. Army’s Director of Force Management, which oversees the size and makeup of the Army. He is developing options for drastically downsizing the service and will advise the Army Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army on possible deep cuts to 30 bases across the country.
But in May, with that job done, he will take over as new commanding general at Fort Jackson in Columbia, the nation’s largest training base, which is facing cuts as deep as half its workforce – 3,100 jobs.
“It was challenging,” Cloutier said. “I had to really compartmentalize myself. I was hearing the comments as the director of force management, but at the same time being proud of what I was hearing as future commander of Fort Jackson, feeling good about the bond and the story that was coming out.
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“It was mixed (feelings), but I was really trying hard to keep them separate.”
Cloutier (pronounced Clue-tee-A) spoke Friday in an exclusive on-post interview with The State.
This week, he and his assessment team will continue conducting the remaining nine “listening tours” at the targeted bases. Thursday’s event in Columbia was the 21st.
When the tour concludes, Cloutier will sit down with Army brass and make decisions in cuts. Those should be announced this summer and implemented Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal fiscal year.
So how does Columbia’s effort stack up again the likes of Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., which also conducts basic training?
“I never compare, because that’s the first question I get,” he said. “I will tell you this: This was a very, very good listening session. Turnout was very well attended. As I’ve said before, we’ve got the numbers. What we were looking for was the context and story (of the relationship between Columbia and Fort Jackson). That came across loud and clear and its very obvious that Columbia loves its soldiers and the soldiers of Fort Jackson love Columbia.”
A commitment to training
Cloutier, a Maine native educated at the University of San Diego and Troy University, joined the Army from ROTC in 1988. He served four yearlong combat tours in Iraq with the famed 3rd Infantry Division.
In 2005, Cloutier was named in a Page One article in the Los Angeles Times, datelined Muqdadiya, Iraq. The headline was, “A Death in Family.” The article was about Cpl. Jacob Palmatier, a 29-year-old administrative clerk who asked to be relieved of desk duty to enter combat.
He was in the turret of a 5-ton truck when two slivers of shrapnel from a roadside bomb tore into his midsection, the Times’ David Zucchino wrote.
The paper quoted Cloutier, then a lieutenant colonel leading the 1st battalion of the 30th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division, as saying, “We will hunt down the enemy if he attacks us. I don’t want to give him any rest or refuge. I want to haunt his dreams.”
It triggered a manhunt that penetrated an insurgent cell, leading to the capture of eight suspected cell leaders, the Times wrote. It precipitated a showdown that redefined the relationship between Cloutier and local sheiks and mayors.
But more than anything, the repercussions of that single American death fulfilled a commander’s (Cloutier’s) promise in a way that gave his soldiers a measure of grim satisfaction and a sense that they were somehow more secure, the article states.
“And my first deployment was as a second lieutenant in Operation Just Cause in Panama,” Cloutier told The State last week. “The division and our battalion also lost soldiers there.
“It has impressed on me the need for hard, realistic training,” the new post commander said. “Because in the end, this is about training our soldiers so they can deploy, accomplish their mission and come home ... And you got to get it here at Fort Jackson. This is the foundation. This is critical.”
Cloutier would later be appointed deputy commander of the division (July 2011), and then executive officer to the Supreme Allied Commander – Europe (June 2012), before becoming Director of Force Management (August 2013).
New commander: No beating around the bush
Military and community leaders described Cloutier as outgoing and open, direct and no-nonsense.
“He looks you straight in the eye,” said retired Maj. Gen. Steve Siegfried, who served as Fort Jackson commander from December 1991 to March 1994 and was South Carolina’s first homeland security director. “There’s no beating around the bush. I think we’re going to do really well with this guy.”
Others noted Cloutier’s current position, and postulated that that could help Fort Jackson’s chances.
“How can it not help?” said Columbia restauranteur Bill Dukes, who is South Carolina’s Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army.
Fort Jackson trains 68,000 soldiers and 2,000 sailors each year – 45,000 of them in basic combat training, the rest in advanced training. It also pumps $2.2 billion a year into the local economy, according to a study by the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business.
On Thursday, Cloutier and his 12-person assessment team listened to a string of public officials testify to the importance of the fort to the city and state. A central theme was that the Army consolidate all of its basic training at Fort Jackson.
Basic training at Sill, Benning and Leonard Wood is subordinate to larger missions at those installations. At Fort Jackson, basic training is the main effort, and has been since 1917.
Cloutier, still with his force management hat on, wouldn’t offer any opinions during the interview – only a hint.
“No decisions have been made,” Cloutier said. “They’ll be some consolidations and efficiencies; we can do things better. Where those will occur, we don’t know yet ... But I did ask here at Fort Jackson how much excess capacity there is. Is there room for growth? And yes, there is excess capacity.”
Enough to absorb the other bases’ basic training elements?
“I don’t want to speculate,” he said.