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Community members stand against reductions at Fort Eustis

Residents, community and economic leaders, elected officials and business owners filled a theater on Fort Eustis on Tuesday to tell the Army of the devastating impact losing half of the soldiers on base would have for the region.

"This base is so central to our community," said Newport News Councilwoman Sharon Scott. "You're going to take away dollars, you're going to take away businesses, you're going to take away jobs. That is going to be so critical."

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The latest Army report cuts the base's 10,382 active duty soldiers and civilians by 4,200 — 3,400 soldiers and 753 civilians.

Col. Karl Konzelman, an Army officer tasked with summing up all he heard at Tuesday night's meeting and delivering an impact report to the Pentagon, said the loss of that many soldiers would take $312 million in sales from the region.

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But he reiterated that "no decisions have been made." He is conducting similar meetings at 30 Army installations throughout the country. The comments he collects will be provided to Army leadership for review and consideration before any force structure decisions are made.

The reductions are driven by the Army's goal to cut costs and reduce its end-strength from 570,000 to 490,000 active-duty soldiers by mid-2017. If sequestration level cuts are imposed again in 2016 and beyond, the Army will further cut to 420,000 soldiers — a 26 percent reduction from the war-time high — meaning more cuts could come to Eustis. A decision on the impact to Eustis is expected in late spring or early summer.

Hampton Mayor George Wallace and several others voiced concerns not only about the impact these reductions in force have on the region economically but to national security as a whole.

Newport News Mayor McKinley Price emphasized the millions of dollars that surrounding communities have spent on infrastructure and schools in order to service the military installations in the area. He mentioned the construction on Fort Eustis Boulevard going into the base, which carries a $23 million price tag, as one example.

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Tom Shepperd, chairman of the York County Board of Supervisors, said 40 percent of the region's economy is based on defense spending.

"It was developed and grew from the commitments that the services made to this area," he said.

About 300 people attended the two-hour meeting including representatives from across the water. Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce President Bryan Stephens said it was indicative of how important the military is to the region that he came from the Southside.

"This is a region, a region that supports its military," Stephens said. "We take it very seriously. What impacts the Peninsula affects us."

Michael Groothousen, a retired Navy rear admiral, asked Konzelman if impacts from cuts or reductions to the area from the other services were being taken into account. Konzelman replied no.

Groothousen called it a "misery multiplier."

"There's nobody that is connecting those dots," he said.

The potential cuts at Fort Eustis will only affect Army soldiers and civilians, according to Stephanie Slater, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, even though the base in now connected with Langley Air Force Base as Joint Base Langley-Eustis. The Air Force has its own cuts coming later this year, losing as many at 750 positions.

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Army Col. Bill Galbraith, 733rd Mission Support Group Commander and the Fort Eustis garrison commander, said it is important the Army base stay as it is.

"We've got a diverse mission here," Galbraith said.

From the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, which trains and shapes the Army's future, to the aviation and transportation specialists there, Fort Eustis is home to some of the Army's premier training commands and top leaders.

"This is a leadership base," said John Simmons, from Washington, D.C. "It's about colonels and generals. It's not like other bases where you can make a soldier in a year. It takes years to make a leader."

Rockett can be reached by phone at 757-247-4948.

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