Proposed defense cuts would hit some bases, spare others

Herald Washington BureauFebruary 25, 2014 

WASHINGTON -- Sweeping budget and personnel cuts proposed Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would hit some military bases hard while protecting others.

With the Army targeted to lose as many as 80,000 active-duty troops from its current 520,000-strong force, reaching its smallest size since before World II, major installations from Fort Jackson, S.C., to Fort Hood, Texas, could see their operations scaled back significantly.

The proposal to shrink the world's mightiest military force comes as the United States seeks to redefine its role on the world stage, with the Iraq war over and U.S. combat engagement in Afghanistan winding down, a two-front strategy involving lengthy occupations that severely tested military capabilities. It also reflects the competing demands of spending restraints, national security and politics.

Eliminating two dozen A-10 attack planes at Whiteman Air Force Base near Kansas City, for instance, is part of a broader move to retire all of the aging Warthogs, saving the Pentagon several billion dollars. But lawmakers from Missouri and other states will certainly object.

Meanwhile, installations such as Fort Bragg, N.C., Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, Wash., and Fort Campbell, Ky., would likely emerge largely unscathed from the cuts because of their specialized missions.

Hagel said he had recommended the realignment plan to President Barack Obama, who is expected to present his annual budget to Congress next week.

"This is the first time in 13 years we will be presenting a budget to the Congress of the United States that's not a war-footing budget," Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon plan also reflects ongoing budget pressures in Washington amid partisan struggles over the proper size of government.

Obama's aides indicated the plan would get a warm reception at the White House.

"The recommendations fit and represent a responsible, realistic approach to supporting the president's defense strategy," Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

Hagel is recommending a 1 percent pay increase for military and civilian employees to match an increase that White House aides said Obama will seek for all federal workers after a three-year wage freeze.

Despite congressional demands to cut overall Pentagon spending, lawmakers almost certainly will oppose hits on installations in their states and resist Hagel's call for a new round of base closings.

"This is another dumb idea," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Even some Democrats who have burnished reputations as fiscal hawks responded coolly to some aspects of the spending plan for the Pentagon.

"I will be taking a hard look at its new budget proposal to make sure it still provides for the strongest national defense," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee.

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