Today’s announcement of a new national defense strategy, which includes a smaller and more streamlined Army, naturally became huge news in the cities surrounding Fort Hood, the Army’s busiest deployment hub for Iraq-bound soldiers over the last decade.
Observers say it’s far too early tell whether Thursday’s announcement will significantly impact Fort Hood, which is home to two large divisions and more than 50,000 soldiers when at full capacity.
But Edwin Dorn, a military expert at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, said he doubts the strategy will mean painful cuts for Fort Hood, home to the 1st Cavalry Division, which recently returned from its fourth deployment to Iraq and First Army West, which trains and deploys reservists and National Guard soldiers.
“It seems to me (the Fort Hood units) are structured to carry out the kinds of conflicts the administration anticipates,” Dorn said. “I suspect they will prove to be pretty adaptable.”
The report released Thursday called for smaller, more agile force and operations using “low cost and small footprint approaches.” It also emphasized a heightened presence in Asia and the Pacific.
Bill Parry, the executive director of the Killeen-based Heart of Texas Defense Alliance, which serves as a liaison between Fort Hood and surrounding communities, said he thinks Fort Hood is well positioned to weather troop reductions. He noted that Fort Hood also earned high marks for being the Army’s most cost efficient installation during the 2005 base closure process and has proven its ability to quickly deploy troops and equipment from its airfield and rail lines.
“Those are going to be the types of requirements the Army needs in the future,” Parry said, later adding: “I’m not panicked at this particular point.”
Any significant cuts at Fort Hood could be economically damaging for the cities surrounding the post, including Killeen, whose population nearly doubled over the last decade as the Army added tens of thousands of new soldiers.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has previously said the Army will reduce troop levels by about 30,000 to reach 520,000 soldiers, but Thursday’s announcement could mean deeper personnel cuts. Expert say future troop levels could approximate pre-9/11 levels of about 480,000 soldiers.
Thursday’s report also calls for troop reductions in Europe, which could also argue against significant reductions at Fort Hood.
The first inkling of what form the cuts will take could come with next month’s unveiling of the new defense budget.
Dorn said he expected the Texas congressional delegation to “line up to help protect” Fort Hood and other military installations throughout the state.