Big changes are on the horizon as the United States welcomes a new commander in chief with big plans for the growth of the military, and that may mean an increase of soldiers stationed at Fort Hood, according to retired generals who live in the Killeen area.
Donald Trump’s “vision” outlined on his campaign website includes increasing the size of the Army to 540,000 active-duty soldiers.
Currently, there are about 475,000 soldiers on active duty. The Army has been downsizing for about five years, and because of increased budget cuts, announced a plan in 2015 to shrink the force to 450,000 soldiers by 2018. That’s down from about 570,000 a few years ago.
Trump’s message of a stronger, bigger military was welcome rhetoric to current and former military leaders who have been discussing for years the strains that downsizing has caused on the armed forces.
“In his campaign, he said the right things,” said retired Lt. Gen. Dave Palmer, a Bell County resident. “He said we need to take care of our veterans and increase the size of our military.”
Trump’s likelihood of increasing military numbers will be fueled by the Republicans keeping control of both the House and Senate, said Palmer, a former brigade commander at Fort Hood who also commanded the 1st Armored Division in Germany.
“He’s got, fortunately, a Republican House and a Republican Senate,” Palmer said.
It’s the first time since 2007 that Republicans have controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government.
What does increased Army troop numbers mean for Fort Hood?
It “quite likely” means that Fort Hood’s military population — which as of Oct. 5 was 36,768 soldiers and airmen — will also grow, Palmer said.
“Fort Hood has the ability that no other post in America has — handling two divisions,” Palmer said.
An Army division can have 20,000 or more soldiers. Currently, Fort Hood is home to one full combat division — the 1st Cavalry Division — but the post has been home to two divisions simultaneously in the past, reaching a soldier population of 50,000 or more.
“Fort Hood can definitely handle more soldiers (than it has now). When I was commander, Fort Hood had over 40,000 soldiers, so the base can definitely handle more,” said retired Lt. Gen. Paul “Butch” Funk, former commanding general of Fort Hood’s III Corps in the 1990s.
If Army troop levels do increase, that will likely mean more combat units added to the Army’s arsenal, Palmer said. And Fort Hood — with its many combat training ranges and room to absorb more units — is a likely placement option, said the retired three-star general.
“We have top of the line ranges and infrastructure at Fort Hood, so it makes more sense to me to bring more soldiers here,” said Lt. Gen. Donald Jones, a retired general living in the Killeen area.
Fort Hood impact
Fort Hood contributes over $35 billion to the Texas economy, and supports about 200,000 Texans in some capacity, providing about $12 billion in disposable personal income, according to Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, in a previous Herald article.
More than 60,000 soldiers and civilians are currently directly employed by Fort Hood, and it is the largest single-site employer in the state, added Hegar, who is the controller of public accounts and the chief financial officer for the state of Texas.
“Locally, Fort Hood contributes to the livelihood of a large portion of people in the area and has made the Central Region a Texas military hub,” Hegar said in the previous article.
Central Texas has seen large numbers of soldiers and their families retiring in the area because of the low cost of living.
“The more soldiers that are stationed here, the more soldiers may want to retire here,” Funk said. “There’s the whole notion of expanded housing and real estate sales that comes with it.”
The benefits for local businesses would be wide ranging in several different ways, according to Funk and Jones.
“Businesses from food to housing would feel an increase in sales,” Jones said. “We’ve never felt a recession here due to the presence of soldiers in the area.”
Funk pointed out the assets of having more soldiers in the area as military personnel can contribute their knowledge and experience to local businesses.
“Soldiers are skilled and hard working, and that would expand commercial potential and growth,” Funk said.
Overall, the concept of growth in the Killeen/Fort Hood area is a positive idea for retired military in the community.
“The world is a dangerous place, so we need the strength of our military,” Jones said. “I’d love to see more soldiers come to Central Texas.”
At a luncheon in Killeen on Nov. 4, III Corps and Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland discussed the struggles of the current force to operate under diminishing conditions.
“(The U.S. Army has) about 186,000 or so soldiers deployed around the world right now and our Army is shrinking. Despite that tempo, we are losing manpower all the time,” MacFarland said. III Corps and Fort Hood “has lost about 10 percent of our strength, as has the Army.”
Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra said he supports the idea of reinvesting in Army soldiers.
“According to his policies and what he has said he is very pro-military,” Segarra said. “I think reinvesting in our soldiers on Fort Hood will have a good trickle down effect for our community.”
Other parts of Trump’s vision for the military, according to his website, include:
Work with Congress to fully repeal the defense sequester and submit a new budget to rebuild the nation’s depleted military.
Rebuild the U.S. Navy toward a goal of 350 ships, as the bipartisan National Defense Panel has recommended.
Provide the U.S. Air Force with the 1,200 fighter aircraft it needs.
Grow the U.S. Marine Corps to 36 battalions.
Invest in a serious missile defense system to meet growing threats from Iran and North Korea.
Protect all vital infrastructure and create a state-of-the-art cyber defense and cyber offense.
Conduct a full audit of the Pentagon, eliminating incorrect payments, reducing duplicative bureaucracy, collecting unpaid taxes, and ending unwanted and unauthorized federal programs.
Trump’s website cited the Air Force Times and other publications, which reported the average age of Air Force aircraft is 27 years old, and the Navy is among the smallest it has been since before World War I.