FAIRBANKS—Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks will lose 75 soldiers and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage will lose 2,600 soldiers as part of a nationwide force reduction, the Army announced Wednesday.
The Anchorage cuts will come from the 4th Brigade Airborne Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. It was not immediately known where the 75 positions will come from at Fort Wainwright.
The cuts are planned for fiscal 2017, which starts in October 2016. Across the nation, the Army plans to cut 40,000 soldiers in order to meet congressional budget reduction mandates as the Army shrinks from 490,000 to 450,000 active-duty soldiers.
The negative reaction from Alaska political leaders was swift. Alaska's governor and three-member congressional delegation unanimously criticized the Army's choice to move soldiers out of Alaska.
Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said in prepared statement that he's put a hold on the confirmation of Stephen Hedger as an assistant secretary of defense because of the planned cuts.
"I will continue the hold until I get answers to questions about how this affects our national security, and continue to work with our congressional delegation to reverse this strategically misguided decision," Sullivan said.
Top executive positions in the United States require confirmation from the Senate. A single senator can block confirmation by placing a hold on the vote, a tactic previously used by Sullivan's predecessor, Democrat Mark Begich, when the Air Force attempted to move a squadron of F-16 planes from Eielson Air Force Base.
Matthew Felling, a spokesman for Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Wednesday that Murkowski is "examining all the tools in the toolbox" for reversing the Army force reduction in Alaska.
“Along with thousands of Alaskans, I find this decision devastating, far beyond what it means to our state economy, but what it means to America’s defense," Murkowski said in a joint statement of the state's congressional delegation. "It is staggering that the Obama administration is making such short-sighted decisions and ignoring the emerging threat before our noses presented by Russia, China and North Korea.”
“The secretary of defense told me he wants a robust Arctic defense immediately, the Army chief of staff testified on the need to maintain a strong military presence in Alaska and every Cabinet official and military commander I speak to acknowledges the need for a strong Arctic posture," she said.
Gov. Bill Walker also criticized the Army for cutting Alaska-based units.
"The decision to eliminate thousands of soldiers from JBER and Fort Wainwright will have harmful impacts on Alaska and the entire United States,” he said in a written statement. “I am by no means done fighting to keep these troops here. The military plays an integral role in Alaska’s safety and economic stability, and I will do whatever I can to make sure that doesn’t change.”
The planned Army cuts come amid a mix of recent cuts and expansions for Alaska's military bases. The U.S. military generally plans to shrink its active-duty force with smaller roles in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson lost 780 soldiers last year, mostly through the loss of military police, engineer and troops battalions.
But as the military has focused its attention in the Pacific region, the Interior has been picked for several expanded programs, including Gray Eagle drones and Apache helicopters at Fort Wainwright and additional ballistic missile interceptors at Fort Greely near Delta Junction. Eielson Air Force Base near North Pole is the Air Force's preferred and only listed pick for two squadrons of the new F-35 fighter jet.
Contact outdoors editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.