Army to reduce authorized soldier count in Alaska

ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Army has largely spared Alaska from personnel reductions tied to federal budget cuts.

Army Alaska announced Wednesday that Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage will lose 780 soldiers by September 2015, falling to authorized personnel of 4,598.

Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks will gain 367 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2015, pushing the number of authorized personnel to 6,198 soldiers.

The net loss for Alaska: 373 soldiers.

The Army is reducing active personnel overall by 80,000 to 490,000 to meet requirements of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

“We see this as a real good news story for the Army and Alaska,” said Army Alaska spokesman John Pennell. “When you look at the number of positions that the Army is cutting overall, reducing by 80,000 soldiers, and Alaska ends up losing fewer than 400 out of that 80,000, it shows that the Army values the strategic location and they value the support that we get from the community here.”

Economist Neal Fried of the Alaska Department of Labor said a loss of 400 soldiers should not significantly harm Alaska’s economy. The state can easily see such fluctuations within any given year.

After declines in the 1990s, Alaska was down to 17,631 military personnel in 2000. The state saw a significant increase following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Fried said, to the point where military personnel in Alaska exceeded civilian federal personnel. By 2009, Alaska had 24,449 military personnel.

They are paid well and many live off base, Fried said.

The military also spent about $500 million annually to upgrade installations between 2003 and 2010.

The military’s economic influence is especially significant in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Delta, Clear and Kodiak.

“It’s a core part of Alaska’s economy,” Fried said. “We export the military services to the rest of the nation.”

Engineering and military police battalions will be reorganized as part of the upcoming changes.

“A lot of what’s happening will be internal shifting,” Pennell said.

Restructuring will allow the Army to retain adaptability and flexibility to provide “regionally aligned and mission-tailored forces” to meet national defense requirements.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in an announcement that it’s a disappointment to lose any soldiers but the numbers indicate Alaska remains a premier defense location.

“With the United States Army responsibly conducting a regular evaluation of their positioning worldwide to boost efficiency, many states are seeing far larger reductions compared to Alaska’s 3 percent,” she said.

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