Army’s boom ends at post

By Ned Seaton

OVERLAND PARK — The great Army boom is over.

That was the resounding message from Maj. Gen. William Mayville, commanding general at Fort Riley, to the attendees at the annual retreat of the area chambers of commerce held here over the weekend.

It’s the “post-BRAC environment,” combined with “new fiscal realities” that are combining to make that happen, Mayville said.

None of that is a shock, since area leaders have long projected that the boom in military construction spending and the boost in operational spending would have to come down. Fort Riley’s troop strength has gone from about 9,500 to 18,000 since the last Base Realignment and Closing process, which is known by its acronym “BRAC.”

The post’s economic impact on the area in fiscal year 2010 was $2.2 billion, Mayville said, and was $1.9 billion in 2011. That included $1.29 billion in payroll, $313 million in supplies, services and contracts, and $185 million in construction. But the construction spending will decline rapidly once the $380-million new hospital is completed in 2014, he said. And he projected that the overall economic impact of the post would continue to decline through fiscal year 2015, to slightly below 2008 levels. He said it would be about $1.6 billion that year, using “our best guess” and “straight-line projections.”

That’s still substantially higher than the post’s economic impact prior to the buildup, officials noted. But Mayville emphasized: “My message is, we’re coming off of BRAC. We need to start thinking about Fort Riley in a different way.”

In other words, the boom has stopped. The new reality — while operating at a substantially higher level than before — is a downward trend back to a new level. Because of federal budget pressure, the post has already cut its civilian workforce by 15 percent, or about “285 faces,” Mayville said. The Army in general is expected to cut about 70,000, he said. It’s “not yet clear” how that would happen, but he said he suspected that no formation would be “hollowed out” rather, there will be fewer units, but the units that are left will be fully equipped.

Issues to address, he said, include crowded schools in the Junction City District — he said the middle school at Fort Riley is 60 percent over capacity — building more off-post housing (particularly rentals) for soldiers, improving access control points and expanding road networks, and bringing more specialty medical care to the region.

Mayville indicated that the post is very well-positioned for the future, saying it was on the leading edge for the modern Army. He also said the relationship with the region was “very, very special.” He called Fort Riley “a beacon of the future” of the Army.

Mayville also noted that next week will begin a two-week exercise to prepare for the next deployment to Afghanistan. He said about 2,100 additional soldiers and contractors would be in the region, including NATO forces, to “wrestle with our expected mission of going back to Afghanistan.”

He said the post is “hard wired” into Afghanistan, and it’s as if people can “come to Fort Riley and go to work in Afghanistan.”

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