FAIRBANKS — Fort Wainwright will gain, not lose, soldiers as the overall size of the U.S. Army shrinks during the next six years, according to Army documents provided to Alaska’s congressional delegation and others Tuesday.
An additional 552 soldiers are expected to join the 6,300 soldiers already stationed at the Fairbanks post as the Army reorganizes and cuts units from other installations.
The new soldiers, a growth of 8.8 percent for the base, would be assigned to Fort Wainwright’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team and give the unit new “engineer and mission command capabilities,” according to an Army base-by-base analysis of the service’s proposed realignment.
The Army is in the process of trying to reduce its force from a 2012 wartime high of 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 soldiers by 2019.
Before today’s announcement, the Army hadn’t specified whether Fort Wainwright and other bases would gain or lose soldiers. Under one option, Fort Wainwright would have lost the more than 4,000 soldiers assigned to the Stryker
Under the new plan, 10 other bases will lose brigade combat teams, including Fort Lewis in Washington state. As part of the same Army reorganization, Fort Richardson near Anchorage is expected to lose 894 soldiers, or about 16 percent of that base’s force.
The Army’s decision came as Fairbanks leaders had been anticipating and trying to avoid an Air Force plan announced last year to move a squadron of F-16 planes and almost 1,000 military and civilian jobs out of the Interior.
Jim Dodson, president of the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp., sent an email with the Army news Tuesday morning to the Tiger Team, a group of community and business leaders who meet weekly to discuss the military reductions.
“From an economic development statement, 550 new troops coming into Fairbanks is absolutely good news,” he said. “This is jumping-up-and-down-good-news.”
In Washington, Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, both R-Alaska, criticized the Army for decreasing the size of the force statewide in news releases sent out Tuesday, though they expressed appreciation for the force increase at Fort Wainwright. Murkowski said the decision “sends mixed signals” about the Army’s priorities in Alaska.
Sen. Mark Begich was not as critical.
“Today’s decision shows that, despite the national cut of 80,000 troops and ending of two wars, the Army recognizes Alaska’s increasing strategic importance as our defense focus shifts to the Asia-Pacific,” Sen. Begich stated in his news release. “Despite a small net loss at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), the restructuring in Alaska will enable the 4/25 Airborne Brigade to gain additional combat capabilities because of this
Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins also said the Army’s decision is good for Fairbanks and played down the statewide decrease. Alaska will lose far fewer soldiers than many other states, he said.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.