As military leaders deal with questionable budgets, the mystery of sequestration and a force that could shrink to the size of the Army to the pre-World War II era, a report issued last week unveils a Fort Hood with 16,000 fewer personnel.
Those lost 16,000 positions — 14,606 soldiers and 1,394 Army civilians — would have a ripple effect on Killeen’s and the surrounding area’s socioeconomic community. Along with the 16,000, another 24,288 family members would no longer live in Fort Hood’s “region of influence,” which includes Bell, Coryell and Lampasas counties, according to the report.
That totals 40,288 people no longer living in the three-county area, which boasts a population of nearly 418,000, and grows every year.
The loss would be a 9.6 percent decrease to the region’s population and an $870 million loss in yearly income, according to the report, titled “Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment for Army 2020 Force Structure Realignment.”
Issued by the U.S. Army Environmental Command, the report examined potential environmental impacts, including air quality, noise, water resources and socioeconomics, on the possibility that the Army could reduce its number of troops to as low as 420,000.
Currently, the Army is trimming the number of active-duty soldiers from 570,000 to 490,000, however, other factors such as sequestration — a series of budget cuts enacted by Congress — have caused some military leaders to predict an Army of 490,000 troops won’t be manageable with those budget cuts.
A similar environmental report was issued early in 2013, assessing impacts that would come with an 8,000 reduction in personnel from Fort Hood in order to reach the Army’s goal of 490,000 by 2020. Last week’s report is a “supplement” to the 2013 report, and does not necessarily replace it.
According to a Fort Hood report in February, the post had about 41,500 assigned troops and more than 4,600 Army civilian employees.
Last week’s environmental report said the 16,000 cut positions, “each with an average annual income of $46,760 (for soldiers) and $56,913 (for Army civilians) ... would affect an estimated 8,928 spouses and 15,360 children.”
The report derived the numbers assuming the loss of “two (brigade combat teams), 60 percent of Fort Hood’s non-BCT soldiers and 30 percent of the Army civilians.”
Fort Hood currently has four brigade combat teams.
Housing and schools
The report also gave predictions for housing and schools in the area. “The population reduction would lead to a decrease in demand for housing and increase housing availability on the installation and in the region. This could potentially lead to a reduction in housing values.”
With more than 15,000 children no longer here, schools “on and off the installation are expected to experience a decline in enrollment. School districts with larger portions of military children in proximity to Fort Hood would be more severely affected than those with fewer military students.”
Also affected: Impact Aid, which pours millions of federal dollars into the coffers of the Killeen and Copperas Cove school districts each year based on the number of “federally connected” students.
Although the report gave no dollar amount that could be lost from Impact Aid, “districts in the (region of influence) would likely need fewer teachers and materials as enrollment drops, which would offset the reduced federal Impact Aid. ... There would be fewer resources available for the remaining students as a result of the loss of tax revenue and the federal funds associated with the reduction of students under this alternative. These school districts may, therefore, lose their ability to employ the current number of staff and faculty.”
All of these estimates, however, are not a glimpse of what will happen, but rather, what could happen “if” the Army adopts a plan to reduce the force to 450,000 troops or below, its smallest size since 1940.
That’s a big “if,” however, and in the words of some area experts, the plan outlined in last week’s report is a “worst-case scenario” of Army downsizing.
“Every installation with two or more BCTs were analyzed for a maximum reduction of 16,000 (soldiers and Army civilians) as the worst-case scenario,” said Bill Parry, a retired Army colonel and director of the Killeen-based Heart of Texas Defense Alliance. His organization provides cities and other governing bodies with status reports and potential changes to Fort Hood or elsewhere in the Army.
“We know that the Army considers the military value of Fort Hood to be very high — Fort Hood was ranked No. 3 of 97 installations overall for military value in (base realignment and closure) 2005,” Parry said. “I would anticipate that the Army is not considering worst-case scenario cuts for a capable installation like Fort Hood with very high military value.”
The report does hint at further ripple effects that could come with downsizing Fort Hood.
“Specifically, in Bell and Coryell counties, the armed forces account for 16 and 26 percent of the workforce, respectively, demonstrating the importance of installation to employment opportunities in the region,” according to the report. “The considerable reliance on the installation, in combination with 16,000 lost Army jobs, could lead to reduced Fort Hood and supporting activities in the (three-county area), additional losses in jobs and income, with fewer job opportunities for displaced Army employees.”
The economic impact would result in an additional 1,416 “direct contract service” jobs at Fort Hood to be lost.
On top of that, “Military personnel spend their money in the (regional) economy, supporting additional jobs, income, taxes and sales impacts,” the report said.
The report estimates an “additional 1,499 induced jobs would be lost because of the reduction in demand for goods and services within the (region). Total reduction in employment is estimated to be 18,915 jobs, a significant 10.3 percent reduction of the total employed labor force in the (three-county area) of 183,664.”
Parry said the Army was required to file the report to meet federal environmental impact laws, and it didn’t come as a surprise to him or his staff.
The report “is simply the process the Army must go through as it looks at the possibility of reducing the size of the Army from the FY 2015 authorized level of 490,000 active-duty soldiers to some lower number. We had been anticipating this process since February,” he said.
“Whether there will be additional reductions of brigade combat teams in the future is still to be determined — and it is my sincere hope that that decision will be driven by strategic reasons, and not budget reasons.”
Contact Jacob Brooks firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468