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Post is well worth the investment

By Walt Braun

The Army chief of staff’s words Friday about Fort Riley’s future were music to the ears of civic and business leaders of Manhattan and other communities that support the post.

“This is a place, obviously, that we will continue to have a large contingent of Army forces for a very long time,” said Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He added that he would be “surprised” if mandated reductions had “any impact” on the post.

That wasn’t quite a guarantee — Washington’s ever-changing politics preclude such niceties — but it’s nevertheless important reassurance in light of announced plans to scale back the Army by some 80,000 troops in the next six years. Only slightly tempering his assurances, Gen. Odierno did note that “In some way, every installation will be affected by this 80,000-person cut.”

There’s no question Fort Riley has a lot going for it. Gen. Odierno said that the Army’s considerations for determining troop cuts at each installation will involve efforts to avoid overcrowding, recent attention to infrastructure and the condition of training facilities.

On all three, Fort Riley would seem to score well. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in those areas at Fort Riley. Housing on post and in neighboring communities has been substantially improved and expanded, and both the infrastructure and training facilities have been vastly improved. As a Mercury story on Sunday pointed out, more than $300 million has been invested in replacing — not just upgrading — Irwin Army Community Hospital, ensuring state-of-the-art medical care.

Gen. Odierno, who visited Fort Riley to observe an upcoming deployment exercise for Afghanistan, also appropriately acknowledged the support of civilian communities near the post. As an Associated Press story noted, area communities have invested significant sums in schools and roads as well as housing to handle the influx of soldiers and families.

The economies of those communities are understandably sensitive to troop drawdowns. Manhattan, Junction City and other communities that are now benefiting from the surge of personnel at Fort Riley to 18,000 troops, remember well the 1990s, when the 1st Infantry Division’s colors were transferred to Germany and troop strength was half of what it is now.

With two base realignment and closure (BRAC) rounds likely in the coming years, local communities know the importance of working with state officials and the Kansas congressional delegation to ensure that Fort Riley remains strong.

Anything is possible — and the nation’s defense needs come before local concerns — but as Gen. Odierno indicated, Fort Riley will enter the process in a strong position.

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