Local defense industry has watchful eye on potential military cutbacks
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Feb 25, 2014 | 5548 views |  0 comments | 102 102 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Employees at the Anniston Army Depot work on a tank body. Photo by Stpehen Gross.
Employees at the Anniston Army Depot work on a tank body. Photo by Stpehen Gross.
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If the Department of Defense's recent military spending cut plan is enacted, Anniston's economy could take a hit, defense industry experts say.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined a plan Monday to reduce the size of the U.S. Army to pre-World War II levels to adapt to budgetary realities and the end of two costly land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With military spending still the backbone of Anniston's economy, any significant cuts could affect the area. Whether that means significant job losses or even the closing of facilities is still unknown, local defense industry representatives said Tuesday.

At the Monday Pentagon news conference, Hagel proposed shrinking Army forces from 520,000 active duty troops to around 440,000 active duty troops. Also, Hagel recommended a 5 percent reduction in the Army National Guard and National Reserve. If approved by Congress, the proposal would reduce the Army to its lowest troop levels since 1940 — roughly a year before construction began at the Anniston Army Depot and the U.S. began rapid military expansion for World War II.

Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed cuts could be felt in Anniston.

"If you draw down troop strengths to that level, then everything else will be drawn down," Hill said. "Equipment and equipment usage will go down ... every military installation in the United States will be impacted in that way."

Col. Brent Bolander, commander of the depot, said he did not yet know how such cuts could affect his facility.

"While we believe organizations across the Army will be impacted, we can't definitively say how this announcement will impact Anniston Army Depot," Bolander said.

The depot is the single largest employer in Calhoun County with more than 2,800 workers. The depot repairs, modifies and upgrades combat vehicles and small arms for the military.

Peter Keating, spokesman for defense contractor General Dynamics Land Systems, which has a facility in Anniston that has 300 employees, said it is too early to know how the proposed cuts could affect his company's Anniston operations.

"We look forward to the details the secretary of Defense and Department of the Army will release in the president's fiscal year 2015 budget request," Keating said.

The Department of Defense is set to release 2015 budget program details March 11.

Lt. Col. Shannon Hancock, spokeswoman for the Alabama National Guard, said the Guard did not yet know how it might be affected by the proposed cuts. Anniston has a large National Guard presence with the Fort McClellan Army National Guard Training Center.

"Right now it's still a proposal ... until the secretary of Defense puts out a definitive budget, it's hard to comment on something that isn't a reality," Hancock said. "Once they do put that out, we will work that out and try to be the best National Guard we can be."

Hill noted that cuts to the Guard would hurt Anniston's economy like cuts to the depot.

"We have many guardsmen here, they contribute to the local economy like the depot does," Hill said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, said in an email to The Star that now was not the time to hollow out the nation's security by cutting military spending.

"I oppose efforts like this to downsize our Armed Forces and will continue to work on the Armed Services Committee to help set priorities that keep America's military strong at vital military installations like the depot, while also addressing the realities of our current budget situation," Rogers said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a senior member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said in an email to The Star that careful consideration is needed before reducing military spending.

"As we shrink our forces, we better be careful," Shelby said. "The security of this nation and our commitments abroad are very important."

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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