Riley one of 10 bases across Army to see drawdowns

By Rose Schneider

The Army announced Tuesday it would eliminate one infantry brigade at Fort Riley — one of 10 such cuts at bases across the country and abroad as the Army looks to reduce the overall number of soldiers by September 2017.

Fort Riley is home to nearly 18,000 soldiers and three brigades of the 1st Infantry Division, as well as a combat aviation brigade.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno announced Tuesday the 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Riley will be inactivated as part of the cuts. The brigade includes 3,500 soldiers, though the cuts will affect an estimated 1,700 soldiers at Fort Riley, said 1st Infantry Division public affairs officer, Martin O’Donnell.

“We haven’t done the analysis yet and deliberate planning will take place, however we think the net loss will be approximately 1,700 soldiers at Fort Riley at the conclusion,” O’Donnell said.

“The changes will be made through natural attrition, early retirements, soldiers coming into retirement on their own accord and the Army not recruiting as many soldiers to draw its numbers down,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell speculates the ranks most affected will include officers, captains and lieutenants colonels, some of whom will be offered early retirement compensation. However, he admits “it is still premature exactly what it will mean in raw numbers at Fort Riley.”

The cuts also affect a second brigade that is part of the 1st Infantry Division but not at Fort Riley: the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat team at Fort Knox. The two remaining 1st Inf. Div. brigades also will be reorganized, he said.

“The 1st and 2nd armored brigade’s combat teams will reorganize and gain soldiers — 3rd maneuver battalions, engineer and fire capabilities and others that are yet to be determined,” he said. “That gain of soldiers will come from inactivating units to include in both the 3rd and 4th brigades and from across the Army as a whole.”

O’Donnell estimates those who are currently deployed or preparing for deployment will not be affected, especially since the cuts will be phased over a four-year period of time.

“With the end of the war in Iraq and the culminating transition in Afghanistan by 2014 they will complete their requirements within the 2017 window,” he said. “Planning will begin when soldiers are gone which will likely involve their rear detachment but will not leave them without somewhere to return to.”

As for the soldiers returning to the Manhattan and Junction City areas, O’Donnell is hopeful for what that might look like for local businesses in the short run.

“How the change will affect the community is yet to be determined, however, we’ve been at war for more than a decade with the division constantly having soldiers deployed, so the entire division hasn’t been here in 10 years,” O’Donnell said.

“That economic impact has already been felt in the area, and as we transition in Afghanistan and are done already in Iraq we will actually have more people here, which could mean positive things for the community.”

The Army’s announcement is part of a plan to decrease its active-duty force by 80,000 soldiers, which will bring the total force to 490,000 by the end of 2017. Fort Riley said in a press release “with this force structure, the Army will retain its adaptability and flexibility to provide Regionally Aligned Forces.”

O’Donnell also pointed out that “in 2001 before the war Fort Riley only represented 2 percent of the Army force, by 2012-13 were at just about 3 percent of the total force and that circa 2019 Fort Riley will actually be at 3.15 percent representation.”

“We will still be coming out ahead, which may not be assuring for some right now, but from the perspective of the 1st Infantry Division we will stay on the forefront of the Army’s defense,” O’Donnell said. “Fort Riley’s future is very secure; we will continue to maintain a footprint here and representation will increase representing a larger force.”

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