A community delegation representing Coastal Georgia and the South Carolina Lowcountry recently joined Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter in Washington for a series of meetings with congressional and military leaders.
The delegation — led by Bill Cathcart, retired general manager of WTOC-TV in Savannah and a civilian aid to the secretary of the Army, and Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas — presented a map that highlighted the triangle of military operations areas formed by Fort Stewart to the west; Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, to the north; and Jacksonville, Florida, to the south.
Thomas said they met March 25-26 with four U.S. senators and eight congressmen, as well as Kathryn Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, environment and energy; Carla Coulson, director of the Directorate of Installation Services; Andy Napoli, special assistant for the Base Realignment Committee and deputy assistant secretary of the Army; and Col. Carl Konzelman, chief of Force Management Division, Army G-3/5/7.
Thomas said they told military and congressional leaders the Army’s Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Analysis was deficient because it didn’t assign greater value to Fort Stewart because of its proximity to the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, Townsend Bombing Range in Long County and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Hammack reportedly thanked the delegation members for their installation analysis and said they were the first delegation to make that important connection between nearby installations.
“The reason the (analysis) was called deficient is that it does not factor in all the military installations and training (areas) within a region in its evaluation of an installation’s military value,” Thomas said. “We provided Congress and the Pentagon with a map that displayed all the military bases and areas from Charleston to Jacksonville.
“In our opinion, this map displays a region that is truly a national asset in as far as the military’s deployability and power projection is concerned,” he continued. “The Army representatives said that the SPEA only studied the military value of the Army’s (individual) bases. (They) said the region’s value would be assessed only if a BRAC were being considered. However, they indicated that a region’s value should (also) be considered when making decisions about a reduction of troops but that they were constrained to look only at (individual) installations.”
The delegation was told the last community-listening session took place in early April. Army leaders would begin making active-duty component-force reductions decisions over the next four to six weeks, Thomas said. He added that those reductions could reduce the Army from 490,000 to 450,000, and if sequestration is not avoided, the Army could be reduced to 420,000 active-duty soldiers, which would be the smallest Army since World War I.
The Army already has reduced its active-duty force from a wartime high of 570,000.
The delegation learned that the U.S. House of Representatives’ budget committee has introduced a resolution to provide the Department of Defense with $523 billion for its base budget and another $96 billion for overseas contingency operations. Georgia’s U.S. senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, expressed support for a Senate plan to provide the same combination of $523 billion and
Thomas said it is a temporary solution for possible sequestration in fiscal-year 2016 but added that sequestration needs to be resolved permanently to prevent further troop cuts.
A contentious issue discussed by the delegation with the Air National Guard and U.S. Marine Corps involved compensation to Long County for the land taken to extend Townsend Range. Lost tax revenue for the county is estimated to be about $200,000 a year. Although the USMC has agreed to spend $2 million for a multi-use facility for Long County, Thomas said that’s all that can be done for rural counties by the military. He said he asked U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., to contact the DOD’s Office of Economic Adjustment about getting legislative assistance for Long County.
When asked whether the delegation was successful in getting congressional and military leaders to see Fort Stewart as too important to cut its troop strength, the mayor said the Army’s decision will be based on its budget and whether or not sequestration will be solved. No installation will be considered too valuable for troop reduction, he said.