Army's Planned Troop Reductions Concern Military Communities
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Across the U.S. today military communities are absorbing the news that 40,000 troops are about to be cut. The Army says it will shrink its active-duty force over the next two years, and a big chunk of those cuts are happening in Georgia. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Sarah McCammon reports.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Private First Class Cristian Montoya just got back from a deployment to Germany, but apparently he's not tired of the food.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Guten tag.
MCCAMMON: Montoya is eating lunch with another soldier at Zum Rosenhof in downtown Hinesville, near Fort Stewart. He's not worried about the news that the Army post will soon lose about 950 soldiers or a 5 percent cut.
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS CRISTIAN MONTOYA: Whatever happens, happens.
MCCAMMON: Do you worry about your position?
MONTOYA: No, not really. I mean, I like my job and everything, but if it happens, like I said, it happens.
MCCAMMON: The 20-year-old from Texas joined the Army about a year ago, and he says he'd like to stay in for a while. The bigger worry, he says, could be for Hinesville.
MONTOYA: 'Cause, I mean, that's where pretty much all the economy comes from so, I mean, if you take the base away, then Hinesville would just be another town in Georgia. That's what I think.
MCCAMMON: Life in the city of 34,000 people is oriented around Fort Stewart. Military surplus stores dot strip malls with names like Patriot Center and businesses advertise discounts to troops. Like many base towns, soldiers in fatigues are a common sight and a key source of revenue.
CLAUDE DRYDEN: For the construction business, Fort Stewart is the business. There's very little business without that.
MCCAMMON: Claude Dryden has been building homes in the Hinesville area since the early 1980s. He also owns nearly 300 rental units. Since the first Gulf War, he says business has ebbed and flowed as troops have deployed and returned.
DRYDEN: The good thing about Fort Stewart is that we normally have this turnover of business, and it's relatively steady even though, you know, we have fluctuations up and down. Once we have major cutbacks, then it's very concerning to us.
MCCAMMON: Georgia is among the hardest hit states. More than 4,000 of the cuts are happening here, most at Fort Benning, near Columbus. Nationwide, more than two dozen communities will see their bases shrink. And it's not just about the soldiers. Fort Stewart officials estimate the 950 troops will take about 2,500 family members with them.
Around the corner on Main Street, Linda Barnes runs a consignment shop. She says young military families are an important source of business.
LINDA BARNES: We hope they're not going to shut it down now. It's one of the biggest ones this side of the Mississippi River so it's - it'll probably be here.
MCCAMMON: Paul Andreshak says he doesn't think there's much danger of Fort Stewart closing altogether. He's executive director of Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter, which is an air base nearby. But Andreshak says, even short of that, he thinks it's a bad time to cut defense spending.
PAUL ANDRESHAK: Death by a thousand cuts is still death. And if we're concerned about our military strategy, and if we're concerned about our national situation with conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Ukraine, then reducing the Army any is - at this point, just doesn't seem to make sense.
MCCAMMON: The military says it needs to make the cuts to save money. And the Army says there will be more to come if Congress and the president can't agree on a way to roll back another round of federal cuts scheduled to take effect this fall. That means more worry in military communities across the U.S. For NPR News, I'm Sarah McCammon in Hinesville, Ga.
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