Local News
5:26 pm
Thu August 14, 2014

State Lawmakers Object To Military Base Reductions

Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Heather French Henry (right) and Deputy Commissioner Margaret Plattner (left)
Credit Jonathan Meador, Kentucky Public Radio

FRANKFORT—A group of state lawmakers are calling for the U.S. Department of Defense to abandon its plan to reduce personnel at military bases in Kentucky and across the country.

The reductions would mean a loss of 16,000 positions at Ft. Campbell and 7,605 spots at Ft. Knox, as well a combined income loss of $1.29 billion in Kentucky, according to data from from the U.S. Army's 2020 Force Structure Realignment report, which was provided to the state committee by the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs.

The state's Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Safety wants intends to fight the reductions and voted Thursday to send a resolution to the U.S. Department of Defense.

David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs, said the $1.29 billion figure only includes income, thus the total economic effect of the base reductions could be much greater.

"It's definitely fodder for a letter to the Army," Thompson said. "If we think they're going low on their estimates of economic impact, it's up to us to illuminate that to them and say 'hey, it's a much bigger impact than you're indicating.'"

The U.S. Army announced earlier this summer that it would begin drawing down personnel in bases across the nation to respond to troop reductions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nationally, it means the numbers of military personnel will be reduced from a high of about 570,000 in 2012 to 420,000 (or lower) by 2020 if federal budget sequestration measures hold true.

In Kentucky, Thompson said, the effects of the plan have already been felt: The 4th Brigade at Ft. Campbell was made inactive and folded into other divisions, including the 101st Airborne. At Ft. Knox, the 3rd Brigade's 1st Infantry division was shuttered as well. Last year, those consolidations resulted in a 1 percent reduction in personnel at Ft. Campbell and a 42 percent decrease at Ft. Knox.

Ft. Campbell is located partially in Christian County. The chamber of commerce there posted a sample letter on its website chiding the Department of Defense for what it characterized as an insufficient impact study of the force reductions on surrounding counties.

"This region depends on Fort Campbell as our primary economic driver and employer with an annual $4.7 billion impact," the letter states, adding that the military's impact study "did not take into account other counties that will be affected in this draw down. This ripple effect will reach other Kentucky counties such as Caldwell, Hopkins and Todd just to name a few."

Rep. Tim Moore, a Republican from Elizabethtown and United States Air Force reservist, lamented the effects the projected reductions would have on Ft. Knox, which is in his district.

"We have started a very aggressive letter writing campaign in the Ft. Knox area," Moore said. "As of last week, 80 percent of the letters the Army received were from the Ft. Knox area."

Heather French Henry, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, said she is unsure at this point how the base reductions could affect the unemployment rate of veterans in the state. According to her office, the unemployment rate for veterans is 7.2. Nationally, the rate is 6 percent.

"Obviously it could [affect the rate] if we lose those types of jobs and those types of skills," she said. "It could be possible."

The committee's official resolution will be sent as part of a public comment period lasting through Aug. 25 that the Army is holding to measure input on the realignment.