La. lawmakers lead the charge to hold off DoD cuts to military personnel

Washington, D.C. -- New Congressional legislative proposals to hold off sequester-mandated cuts to the force structure of the Army for another year is gaining steam in Congress, with a dozen Senators and ten Representatives led by the Louisiana Congressional Delegation signing on to the bipartisan proposal.

The proposed legislation in the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act would effectively allow the Army to maintain its force structure at current levels. In a letter sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the 12 Senators ask that lawmakers take the year to study the strategy behind any further cuts and to prioritize support for Army force structure with available funding from the overseas contingency account.

The Army has suffered the most from draconian cuts to its personnel, dropping to its current levels at 490,000. Should the legislation fail, the Army would be forced to announce cuts to its active duty strength to 450,000 and as low as 420,000, as soon as this summer, a level that Chief of Staff of the Army General Raymond Odierno has said would create a "hollow Army."

Louisiana lawmakers have led the initiative to promote the legislation in their respective chambers.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has pushed the issue in the Senate, gathering support from other lawmakers to sign onto the legislation. Last year, Senator Vitter secured language in the the National Defense Authorization Act to slow the rate of reductions in Army soldier levels. That legislation helped to prevent unnecessary force structure reductions. He has a history of working to protect defense interests in Louisiana, including Fort Polk, Barksdale Air Force Base and at other National Guard and Reserve facilities.   

"The reality is that national security threats to the United States are more challenging than ever and yet the size of the force is shrinking. We need to make sure our military is in the best position possible to protect us against these diverse threats," Vitter said. "As we continue to face increasing threats from terrorists and unpredictable and aggressive nations abroad, the last thing we should be doing is weakening our national defense to a place that is below the absolute minimum recommended levels."

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La) concurred, and said allowing the military to shed more personnel would have wide-ranging effects, both across the state and around the world,

"Changes to the Army's structure will impact our national security. It will affect families in Louisiana and throughout the country," Cassidy said. "It's critical that our military has the proper funding to stand ready to meet current and future threats. Our nation's defense must always be a top priority."

Rep. John Fleming (R-Minden) said that budget-driven decisions should not lead national defense policy, particularly in the current international climate.

"I am proud to offer my amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that will preserve Army troop levels. With our current global threat environment, now is not the time to be reducing our military personnel," Fleming said. "We must make sure not to jeopardize the capabilities and readiness of our soldiers at Fort Polk and the United States Army as a whole."

Fort Polk, including the Joint Readiness Training Center, is the largest non-state employer in Louisiana and an economic powerhouse in the State, providing $1.7 billion to the economy each year. The legislation would help spare Fort Polk and some 29 other Army installations around the country from reductions in personnel. Fort Polk could lose as much as 6,500 troops and civilians which would create long-ranging and devastating impacts to the economy.

Fort Polk Progress met with lawmakers and Army leaders last week during a visit to Washington D.C. to promote the legislation and to make sure Army decision makers had all the correct facts regarding the installation and its impact on the region, State, and on the nation's defense.

Fort Polk Progress Chairman Michael Reese said that the leadership exhibited by the Louisiana Congressional delegation was not new and is consistent with the delegation's determination to be the Army's number one ally on Capitol Hill.  

"We are fortunate our Congressional Delegation is 100 percent united on this topic. They realize we must arrest the dangerous slide in Army force structure, that the new Overseas Contingency Operations dollars allow us the opportunity to reduce risk by protecting force structure, and we must make these decisions based on strategy, not just on the budget," Reese said. "Fort Polk Progress is very thankful to Senator Vitter, Senator Cassidy, and Congressman Fleming and the entire delegation for taking the lead in this effort to support our Army." 

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Fort Polk Progress is a regional community organization that takes a proactive stance toward Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) by maintaining relationships and partnering with decision makers in Congress, at the Pentagon and at the state level, ensuring that the most up to date information concerning Fort Polk and the surrounding communities is used in decisions concerning the base. In addition, Fort Polk Progress actively markets the base to the military as the most cost effective place to provide soldiers with the best training possible and strives to help ensure the best possible quality of life for soldiers, civilians and their families. Most recently, Fort Polk Progress has spear-headed an Education Initiative, which acknowledges exceptional educational achievements in the region and pursues continued excellence in education for military families throughout the region. 

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