Plans by the Army to reduce overall strength by 40,000 troops will mean 774 fewer uniformed positions at Fort Leonard Wood by September 2017. The announcement comes as Senate Democrats continue to refuse to debate Republican budget bills, insisting that lawmakers first negotiate an end to mandatory spending caps. The connection to the two issues is a Republican plan to boost the Pentagon’s budget in what Democrats say is a “budget gimmick” designed to avoid hitting spending caps.
According to a press release, most of the cuts at the Missouri base came after an analysis of the "required density and location of military police units" with a goal of maintaining combat units. A military spokesman says that specific positions to be cut are yet to be determined. The final decision will be based on recommendations from a collaborative process. The release also said civilian positions would be cut, but where those cuts would be made wouldn't be announced until September.
The budgeting issue centers on the GOP's plan to add $40 billion to defense spending, but put that money into what is known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, originally used to fund the war on terror. Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is sharply critical of how Republicans have crafted the budget. “The military cannot pay for ground strength through a contingency fund, a one-year budget gimmick,” McCaskill said. “And keep in mind why this gimmick was used; you don’t have to pay for money that you put in the Overseas Contingency fund.”
McCaskill says the Republicans are just pretending that they’re “balancing something, because they’re putting that $40 billion on a credit card.”
Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt has repeatedly dismissed Democrats’ concerns, saying they would rather boost funding to federal bureaucrats than defend the country. Last month, when Blunt delivered the Republican Weekly Address, he cast Democrats as preferring to boost spending for two agencies the Republicans frequently use to generate support from their base: the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service.
The impasse over debating the GOP spending plan versus talks to end mandatory spending cuts has some on Capitol Hill concerned about a possible government shutdown at the end of September, when the current fiscal year ends. Some Republicans have said privately that they may be willing to negotiate a “grand deal” similar to one forged a few years ago in the so-called Ryan-Murry compromise, named for Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D- Wash., then the chairs of their respective budget committees. But those same GOP lawmakers also say such talks would likely give them greater leverage as the country approaches its debt ceiling. Forecasters say the country could hit that ceiling later this year or early next year.
Lawmakers pull together to support the fort
Despite their differences over the budget, McCaskill, Blunt and Rep. Vicky Hartzler - whose congressional district is home to Fort Leonard Wood -- joined in a statement pledging continued support for the fort and its military families.
“Working with installation and Army leadership, in partnership with the Missouri congressional delegation, Missouri has positioned Fort Leonard Wood for the Army of the future, as one of the premier training bases in the country. … This is a challenging announcement for the Fort Leonard Wood community, but we remain committed in our support for the fort along with its brave soldiers, families and civilians stationed there.”
The three lawmakers also note that these planned reductions are smaller than those made in 2013. Barring a change, the Army will reduce its overall numbers to 450,000 from 490,000 by the end of fiscal year 2017.
In March, more than 2,000 people, including local, state and federal elected officials, soldiers and their family members and area residents attended a listening session conducted by the Army as part of its Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment (SPEA) review.
The three lawmakers say in their statement that the fort “will continue to play a critical role in the training and development of our troops.” They point to several advantages Leonard Wood has, including “an abundance of maneuver and training areas,” no encroachment concerns from adjacent property and significant community support,which have been an important factor in previous realignments under the Base Realignment and Closure process, or BRAC.
Last month, Gov. Jay Nixon signed into law the creation of the office of military advocate within the state Department of Economic Development. A statement from the governor’s office says the advocate will support “military services and the preservation of military bases in Missouri.”
The advocate will work as a liaison between Jefferson City and Washington and will help to "increase early awareness on base realignment actions and potential downsizing,” according to the governor’s statement.