The Army will eliminate at least 12 combat brigades, including one at Fort Bragg. There are also plans to relocate thousands of soldiers and cancel $400 million in construction projects as the first wave of federal budget cuts takes aim at military communities around the country.
In a massive restructuring, Army leaders said Tuesday that they will slash the number of active duty combat brigades from 45 to 33, as the service moves forward with a longtime plan to cut the size of the service by 80,000.
The sweeping changes would eliminate brigades -- which number from 3,500 to 5,000 troops -- at 10 Army bases in the U.S. by 2017.
The 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat team at Fort Bragg is one of the combat brigades slated to be deactivated. The brigade consists of infantry soldiers who engage in combat. They are the "boots on the ground" during war.
Col. Kevin Arata, Chief Public Affairs Officer for the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, said approximately 3,500 soldiers make up the 4th Brigade Combat team. He said 2,700 of those soldiers will be "reinvested" into the three other brigades of the 82nd Airborne Division. That leads to a direct loss of 800 soldiers because of the elimination of the 4th Brigade Combat team.
However, Arata said other brigades will incur gains and losses by the end of 2015. By then, the changes will lead to a loss of approximately 2,500 soldiers at Fort Bragg.
"Those losses will not be fully realized until 2015 at the earliest unless full sequestration goes into effect," Arata said in a printed statement. "If full sequestration takes effect, that would require an acceleration of that timeline into 2014."
Doug Peters, the President and CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce reacted to the announcement by saying he hopes to see a scenario that has been mentioned as a possibility during the Army's reduction in force. That scenario involves a reduction in combat roles but an increase in tactical roles such as Special Forces based at Fort Bragg. The increase in tactical roles at Fort Bragg could help offset a loss in combat roles.
Jeffrey Hunt, the President and CEO of the Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce had a similar reaction.
"We're hopeful that because we're the home of Special Forces - special forces is the wave of the Army - so we anticipate that the Department of Defense will continue to invest in that," Hunt said.
The cuts come as the Army is being reduced in size from a high of about 570,000 during the peak of the Iraq war to 490,000 as part of efforts to cut the budget and reflect the country's military needs as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end.
Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said he continues to hope that he will be able to cut the 80,000 soldiers largely through voluntary departures. He said he believes he will have to force several hundred officers to leave in order to get the proper number of soldiers at various ranks. But, if the automatic cuts go forward, Odierno said he would likely have to force soldiers out of the Army.
These initial brigade cuts do not affect National Guard or Reserve units.
The Army also warned that more cuts — of as many as 100,000 more active duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers — could be coming if Congress allows billions of dollars in automatic budget cuts to continue next year.