Army bases and surrounding communities across the country would lose up to 80 percent of their military and civilian workforces if maximum cuts in both budget and force size go into effect at the end of the decade, according to worst-case scenario projections.
The report comes as the Pentagon and Congress are at odds over proposals to trim the size of America's military after 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The new findings, issued last week by the U.S. Army Environmental Command at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, double the projected loss from a 2013 report. Now, in the Army's "worst-case" scenario, the force would fall from a 2012 level of 562,000 to 420,000 by 2020.
The projections concentrate on the most severe possible cutbacks, and they illustrate the potential fallout for communities whose economy is closely linked to military facilities. The report is likely be cited by opponents of base reductions as a sign of hardships to come.
Posts such as Fort Campbell, a sprawling facility on the Kentucky-Tennessee line and home of the 101st Airborne Division, would lose half its civilian and military workforce — about 16,000 people — and take an economic hit of $863 million, according to the report. At Fort Knox, the iconic Kentucky base that recently lost its only fighting brigade, the civilian and military workforce would be 5,527 by 2020, from 13,127 in 2011, the projections show.
Other installations around the country would see similar reductions, including Fort Drum in New York, home to the 10th Mountain Division, which would take an $877 million economic hit under the projections.
"Though the Army will not implement the maximum reductions at every installation, that does not mean no installation will receive the maximum number assessed and analyzed," said Cathy Kropp, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Command.
The report and projections come as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pushes for the military to reduce its footprint. The Pentagon budget was cut in a 2011 budget pact and slashed further last year. The Navy, Air Force and Marines also are affected by budget cuts, but the new report deals only with the effect on the Army.
Faced with deficit-driven cuts in defense spending, the Pentagon has repeatedly asked Congress for the authority to close what it calls unnecessary military bases around the country. Republicans and Democrats have rejected those requests, countering that the upfront costs of starting a new round of closures are too high.
This election year, as the House and Senate have pushed ahead on defense policy bills, lawmakers have rejected moves for more base closings.
Kropp said the Army will base its final decisions on a number of factors, including community investment in supporting infrastructure as well base location — such as proximity to airports or seaports.
The projected reductions also take into account how the losses — capped at a high of 16,000 soldiers for the largest installations — would affect the surrounding communities and civilian economies.
Two-thirds of current active service members are married, with many living — and working and spending money — in the cities and towns near bases, estimated Bob Norton, a retired Army colonel and director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America in Alexandria, Virginia.
"When you have this kind of a drawdown, you're going to have an enormous impact on the economy," Norton said. "All that is going to have a ripple effect on communities."
Kenneth Poindexter, co-owner of Mugsy's, a coffee shop just outside the gates of Fort Campbell, estimates that 90 percent of his business is derived from soldiers and their families. The shop has weathered long deployments and even changed operating hours until soldiers returned. But, permanently losing a large number of soldiers and their families would be devastating, Poindexter said.
"Mugsy's would take a great hit —and I am sure that I am not speaking for myself — and our revenue would certainly drop," Poindexter said. "I'm not sure if we could survive the impact to be honest, but for certain there would be changes to our operations at the shop."
Associated Press reporter Donna Cassata in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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