Active duty personnel at Fort Jackson will be reduced by 180, but the number of job losses for civilian workers remains unclear, a senior member of Congressman Joe Wilson’s staff said Thursday.
The number – which amounts to a 6 percent reduction in soldiers – is far fewer than what post officials had anticipated as part of a drastic, 40,000-soldier drawdown by the U.S. Army following 14 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wilson’s spokeswoman said the congressman is seeking details from Army officials, including how many civilian jobs might be lost. However, whether specifics will come soon, next week or even in September have yet to be determined, the spokeswoman said.
Post commander Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier made his first public remarks about the cutbacks. “The specifics with respect to civilian positions has not been announced,” he said in a post news conference. “I don’t think the final decision has been made so we’ll have to wait and see.
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“The impact on the Fort Jackson, Columbia, Midlands community will be negligible. We’ll be OK,” he said. “We’ve been anticipating the reductions coming. But that 180 positions represents soldiers and families and we have an obligation to take care of soldiers and families as we go through this process.”
The Army-wide cuts will affect the post’s mission, however, Cloutier said. “The thing to remember is as the Army is drawn down, potentially the Army will have to recruit less. And if we have to recruit less, we will have to train less. There could be an impact on the number of soldiers that come through. We really haven’t figured that out yet.”
Carl Blackstone, the chief executive of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied strenuously for the post said, “We are grateful that ... Fort Jackson will endure minimal impact over the next several months.”
In notable reductions, Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., will see a net loss of 3,402 soldiers – a 29 percent cut – and Fort Stewart, in Hinesville, Ga., will lose 947 soldiers, a 5 percent reduction. Fort Gordon outside of Augusta, Ga., will lose 41 soldiers, or a 1 percent cutback. Fort Bragg near Fayatteville, N.C., is losing 842 soldiers, a 2 percent reduction.
The cuts at Fort Benning, which became public Wednesday, seemed to bode good news for Fort Jackson because the Georgia post has a basic training contingent, albeit much smaller than Columbia’s post. Fort Jackson trains 54 percent of the Army’s soldiers – about 47,000 a year, more than the Army’s three other basic training bases at Benning, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Sill, Okla., combined.
Fort Jackson commanders and boosters have said the post has the capacity to absorb the basic training functions of each of the other three posts. Benning provides basic training for infantry; Sill for artillery; and Leonard Wood for military police.
The Congressional delegations of states who have seen significant cuts were notified first, according to media reports, and it appeared that those with the highest number of reductions were contacted in descending order.
Job cut projections at Fort Jackson, the nation’s largest training base, were as large as 3,100 lost in a worst-case scenario that post commanders planned for beginning last year.
On Wednesday, The State newspaper reported the post’s reduction would be as few as 200 military and civilian jobs.
Staff Writer Bertram Rantin contributed. Reach Wilkinson at (803) 771-8495. Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8308.
The Army is reducing the number of soldiers from its ranks over the next two years, a reduction that will affect 30 major installations, according to published reports.
An additional 17,000 Army civilian employees also will be laid off under the plan, the report said. The nation’s largest service would drop to 450,000 soldiers by the end of the 2017 budget year from a high of 570,000 during the peak of the fighting in 2008 and 2009.
With the end of the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military is in the process of drastically cutting personnel and budgets. That likely will have profound effects on military installations in the Midlands and the state.
For instance, the number of new soldiers trained at Fort Jackson would have dropped to about 17,000 a year from 45,000, former post commander Maj. Gen. Bradley Becker said last fall. Another 27,000 soldiers receiving advanced training in other schools at the post, such as the drill sergeants and chaplains, also would be heavily affected.
But despite the apparent loss of 200 jobs in this round of cuts, uncertainty could continue for a year until Congress decides whether to let kick in $1.2 trillion in budget cuts – half to the military, half to domestic spending, called the sequester.
If those automatic budget cuts – set to begin in October – take place, the Army would have to slash another 30,000 soldiers, according to published reports. Experts have said that the Army then would not be able to meet its current deployments and be able to ship troops to other regions around the globe.
Fort Jackson has already seen some cuts.
The U.S. Army’s Recruiting and Retention School and its 92 employees moved in October from Fort Jackson to Fort Knox, Ky. The shift relocated 67 military and 25 civilian workers, and their paychecks, from the post.
The fort’s basic training graduations alone draw an an estimated 200,000 people a year who come here from across the nation for three or four days and spend that time eating, drinking, celebrating and visiting Columbia’s sites.
Another 50,000 a year come for graduations from the fort’s various other schools, be they chaplains, truck mechanics, drill sergeants or even polygraph analysts.
Together, those 250,000 annual visitors pump an estimated $45 million a year in direct spending into the Midlands economy. That’s a big chunk of the fort’s estimated $2 billion a year in overall economic impact, when you consider payroll for the fort’s 7,000 employees, supplies, contractors and other cash flow.
Announced Army cutbacks in the Carolinas, Georgia
Fort Benning in Ga.: 3,402
Fort Stewart in Ga.: 947
Fort Bragg in N.C.: 842
Fort Jackson in S.C.: 180
Fort Gordon in Ga.: 41
SOURCE: U.S. Army