Members of Missouri’s Congressional delegation, dozens of the state’s lawmakers and statewide office holders, plus hundreds of citizens gathered at Fort Leonard Wood Monday to boost the credentials of the Army base and attempt to save it from potential job cuts.
Up to 5,400 civilian and military jobs could be lost by 2020 as part of a broader force reduction plan that would significantly draw down the Army’s personnel. The war-time high of 570,000 could be reduced to as few as 420,000 in five years.
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill was one of several elected officials to speak at Monday’s listening session. She said of all the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) installations, Fort Leonard Worth has the lowest direct cost.
“It must be near the top of the list as we struggle to maintain the military that we must have and that our country can afford,” McCaskill said.
She said Congress must free up about $70 billion annually to help offset these potential job cuts, and believes there’s room within its $1 trillion discretionary spending budget, along with a restructured tax code.
Missouri’s other U.S. senator, Roy Blunt, noted that Fort Leonard Wood is one of the few places in the entire defense establishment whose geography poses few challenges.
“There’s no environmental challenge, there’s no water challenge, there’s no space challenge, there’s no encroachment challenge," Blunt said. "Turns out Mark Twain National Forest is a pretty good neighbor if you’re trying to train in the military.”
36,400 direct and indirect jobs are supported by Fort Leonard Wood. It is the fifth largest employer in the state and has a total economic output of about $2.1 billion.
Monday’s meeting comes after last summer’s release by the Army of the Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment (SPEA), which proposed cuts of 1,200 jobs at the fort this year and up to 5,400 direct soldier and civilian jobs by 2020. During a 60-day public comment period, over 111,000 people from 30 different Army installations offered input. 4,904 of those came from Fort Leonard Wood.
Col. Karl Konzelman is chief of the Army G-3/5/7 Force Management Division. He and his team will assess strategic considerations, cost and efficiencies, and readiness impact, among other criteria. Konzelman says an announcement on how the army plans to manage these reductions will be made in late spring or early summer.
Joe Driskill, the executive director of the Sustainable Ozarks Partnership, presented data touting Fort Leonard Wood’s economic impact, educational resources, and geographic location.
He said a significant reduction in the fort’s workforce would lead to severe socioeconomic impacts on regional communities, businesses and school districts. He called such cuts a devastating blow for Pulaski County.
“We think that it would adversely impact the quality of life for remaining soldiers and families because the institutions wouldn’t be supported nearly as well. We think that the Army would miss an opportunity to leverage Fort Leonard Wood’s and the region’s capacity for growth, and we think it would be an undervaluing of Fort Leonard Wood’s capacity and overall value to the Army and country,” Driskill said.
About a dozen citizens also spoke at the listening session. Comments ranged from support of the fort’s commitment to helping veterans with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury to the negative impact on the community’s children and future generations if such reductions take effect.
To date, Col. Karl Konzelman and his team have witnessed more than 20 such presentations at bases across the country.