Inactivation of two U.S. Army brigade combat teams in Kentucky, a move announced June 25 in Washington, will significantly impact the military community of Fort Knox but much less so at Fort Campbell.
With 3,500 soldiers each, Fort Knox’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division and Fort Campbell’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division are among 12 brigade combat teams in the U.S. Army that have been identified for inactivation by 2017.
The Army is reducing and reorganizing active component forces by 80,000 to a total 490,000 as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The number of brigade combat teams (BCTs) across the Army is being cut from 45 to 32, with one not yet identified, according to a Fort Knox-issued press release.
The way force restructuring is slated to occur and the impacts will be vastly different for each post. About 2,700 of Fort Campbell’s 4th BCT’s 3,500 positions will be “reinvested” in the remaining three BCTs on post, with a net loss of about 320 positions, according to the report “Fort Campbell Structure/Stationing Impacts.” Compared to 2012 levels of 29,200 soldiers, Fort Campbell will retain about 28,900 troops after the inactivation, which is still higher than its pre-Sept. 11, 2001, force of 22,900 personnel.
With nearly 30,000 military personnel on post, the net loss is about 1 percent, said Hopkinsville Mayor Dan Kemp.
The changes won’t significantly impact the area, said Carter Hendricks, president and CEO of the Christian County Chamber of Commerce, and local officials are breathing sighs of relief. Fort Campbell’s economic impact on the region is estimated at $4.6 billion in payroll, contracts and services, and if the post had lost its brigade entirely – equivalent to 20 percent of its in-strength – the negative economic impact would’ve approached $1 billion, Hendricks said.
“This is really a positive for our region, but we also empathize with our friends in the Fort Knox region,” Hendricks said. “Obviously this announcement had a very different impact on them.”
At smaller Fort Knox, the 3rd BCT, known as “The Duke Brigade,” will be inactivated, and troops and their families will pull out of the area.
In a written statement issued the day of the announcement, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said that he was “deeply disappointed” by the news at Fort Knox.
“We are surprised by the Army’s decision to inactivate this well-positioned brigade, particularly because the Department of Defense has invested more than $500 million in military construction to support the brigade and provide quality of life for soldiers and families since locating the brigade here in 2009,” Beshear said.
Military spending $15 billion in 2011
The economic impact of the state’s military posts is significant. The military spent about $15.3 billion in Kentucky in 2011, according to a 2012 study by the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs (KCMA). The bulk of the spending was on payroll and veterans’ retirement and benefit activity at Fort Campbell and Fort Knox and related to large healthcare-related contracts with Louisville’s Humana Inc.
A separate administrative body of state government, the KCMA serves as a link between Kentucky officials and military entities and is tasked with promoting and supporting a military presence in the commonwealth.
Military spending in Kentucky has tripled in the 15 years since the commission’s founding, its report notes, pointing out also that of employers that could relocate outside of Kentucky, the military is the largest. It has 58,000 active-duty personnel and civilian employees, and nearly 14,000 Reserve and National Guard personnel.
The commission’s executive director and chair Col. (Ret.) Dave Thompson said while he empathizes with the Army’s budgetary considerations, he was disappointed by the announcement, chiefly as it relates to Fort Knox, which he said is a “considerable asset” for the Department of Defense and the Army for housing, training and deploying a brigade combat team.
Fort Knox’s brigade may pull out as early as next summer, Thompson said, and the economic impact would start to manifest. The post’s military population is approximately 14,000, but add in families and civilian workers, and the population increases to about 75,000. There is bound to be economic pain when 3,500 troops and their families – an estimated 10,000 people – are taken off post, Thompson said.
An estimated $10 to $16 million will be lost annually in tax revenues, according to estimates Thompson has heard, along with more than $404 million in sales in the Hardin and Meade county areas adjacent to the post.
Brad Richardson, president/CEO of the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce, said he has heard estimates that as much as $150 million in payroll will be removed from the area with the BCT’s departure.
Future BRAC moves might help
However, the area still will retain some significant positives, he said. With Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) changes in the past six years, personal income in Hardin County has risen more than $1 billion, he said. The U.S. Army Human Resources Command and the 3,000 new military civilian jobs it brought – at pay rates 20 to 25 percent higher than the rest of Hardin County – will remain at Fort Knox.
Meanwhile, the BRAC commission is looking to the future, Thompson said. It will assist the Department of Defense and work with the state’s congressional delegation to achieve greater efficiencies in existing missions on post and help attract new ones, he said.
“There’s plenty of infrastructure and capability that’s relevant and updated and technologically ready for use by even more considerable missions, so we see the future as bright for Fort Knox,” Thompson said, “but no doubt this was a tough blow, especially in a time of war and with the brigade deployed to Afghanistan.”
Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Bill Barron is executive director of the CORE Committee for Fort Knox, which began in 1990 and is comprised of about 30 local military retirees, business leaders and elected officials who work to protect current missions at Fort Knox and promote bringing new missions to the installation.
Barron was “surprised” by the announcement, he said.
Original reports were that the Army would cut only eight BCTs, he said, and Fort Knox was thought to be safe from cuts. However, as that number rose to 12 or 13 BCTs, concerns mounted.
During BRAC activities in recent years, two barracks with about 1,400 units total were built on post for single soldiers, with the remaining soldiers living in existing family housing units or off post, Barron said. Those facilities and other improvements, including $251 million the state invested in education, transportation and utilities improvements, could make Fort Knox more attractive to decision-makers for future missions, he said.
“They’ll be sitting here ready to hand to somebody new to keep and that’s a pretty good deal,” he said. “I think probably a lot of installations won’t be able to offer that.”
The Army’s operations are never static and he believes the community will continue to be able to weather new changes as they come, Barron said.
“Fort Knox will continue to grow,” he said. “We just need to overcome these budgetary bumps. That is just part of the Army.”
Shannon Clinton is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected].