Parking was scarce for a listening session with Army representatives at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center on Monday.
Inside the auditorium, seats filled quickly, so extra chairs were brought in. They too were quickly taken, so people began lining up against the walls. Some climbed into the loft overlooking the auditorium. Dozens more spilled out into the hall.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas welcomed and thanked the community for attending the Army Force Structure and Stationing Listening Session. He said he was humbled by the turnout.
“Tonight’s meeting is critically important to our community, to our state and to our nation,” Thomas said. “We are the first installation where the Army will have a listening session.”
He introduced Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, 3rd Infantry Division and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield commander. Murray said the session was an opportunity for the community to talk indirectly to the senior staff of the Army. The Army representatives would prepare a report, with some verbatim comments, to the secretary of defense.
Murray called the turnout “phenomenal.” He introduced Col. Tom O’Donoghue from the Army’s Force Management Office, which is led by Brig. Gen. Roger Cloutier.
“I was expecting a smaller, easier group to talk to,” O’Donoghue began. “This is absolutely incredible… I was with Maj. Gen. Murray last time, so trust me, no decisions have been made… It’s important to... hear from people on the ground — those details that don’t always show up in the data… You’re making my job a lot easier.”
O’Donoghue said the Army’s downsizing is driven by the 2011 Budget Control Act and 2012 Defense Guidance Act, which required the Army to reduce its active force from 570,000 to 490,000 by next October. That includes reducing the Army’s brigade combat teams from 45 to 32.
Another round of sequestration cuts, if implemented, would take the Army down to 450,000 soldiers, he said, noting there is some discussion of reducing the active-duty strength to 420,000.
Murray pointed out that lower number would reduce the Army to a size smaller than it has been since 1939.
One woman in the crowd cried out, “That’s ridiculous!”
O’Donoghue explained the Army’s quantitative and qualitative factors for determining troop cuts. He said their job was to conduct a military value analysis model of each of 30 installations considered for troop cuts. This model would look at each base’s training capabilities, power projection, well-being of soldiers and their families and room for mission expansion.
In addition to strategic considerations, readiness impact, mission command and socio-economic impacts, the Army wanted community input, O’Donoghue said. That was why they were here, he added.
Some of the remarks from the audience were from elected officials. Others representing civil organizations then spoke. Some people talked about personal military background and having chosen to settle in Coastal Georgia after leaving the Army.
Col. Thomas Carden, chief of staff of the Georgia National Guard, talked about training at Fort Stewart. He said no member of the Georgia National Guard deploys without first training at Stewart.
Cloutier said sequestration would also effect Guard and Reserve troops.
“We’re all one Army,” Cloutier said. “I was in the 3rd ID from 2004 to 2011, so I’m very familiar with the community,” the general said. “My family has benefited from the love and outreach here… Some things cannot be modeled. Some things cannot be captured with statistics, and the Pentagon is far away, so it was very, very important that we came here and heard your voice.
“But sequestration is the law, and we’re the United States Army. We have to execute our mission. We have to do what we’re told to do… I’ve written a lot of stuff down, but I think the overriding thing I’m going to take back with me is you love your soldiers and your soldiers love you. Thank you very much.”