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Fort Drum commanding general talks potential cuts at AUSA chapter breakfast

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The commander of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division told community members that the division’s continued deployments to Afghanistan may help the post avoid near-term budget cuts and soldier reductions.

“I don’t think we’ll see immediate impacts. ... I think our impacts will come a little later,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend. “I think the Army will probably let us get through this period where we’re deploying to Afghanistan, and I don’t think they’ll effect a lot of change in allowing us to do that.”

Gen. Townsend predicted that division soldiers will be deployed in Afghanistan until operations end, and that military budget cuts will not hit Fort Drum until after 2014 or 2015. He said that he is still trying to determine how heavily the post could be affected.

About 3,000 soldiers from the post’s 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams are in Afghanistan, with an aditional 2,200 from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade scheduled to head there this spring. The division has been among the most deployed units in the military since 2001.

Gen. Townsend spoke Thursday morning at a quarterly business breakfast hosted by the Northern New York-Fort Drum chapter of the Association of the United States Army at the Elks Lodge 496, 728 Bradley St. More than 100 people from the post and the business community attended.

The post’s troop levels have been under discussion since the release of a federal assessment last month that evaluated the impact of potential cuts on military communities across the country through 2020. In a worst-case scenario at Fort Drum, a loss of 8,000 soldiers could mean the annual loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in sales revenues and incomes, along with thousands of jobs. However, another scenario considers that a potential increase of as many as 3,000 soldiers could have a positive effect.

A local response to the report is being developed by the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization.

Asked if he thought a local troop reduction would mean the return of the division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, currently based at Fort Polk, La., Gen. Townsend said he thought such a move would be unlikely. However, he said he would be in favor of the return if it was considered.

Gen. Townsend also gave an update on the status of members of the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461, Jacksonville, N.C., who were stuck in Watertown while waiting for a flight to Afghanistan. The unit’s flight was delayed as it encountered complications with traveling through Russian airspace.

Gen. Townsend said the Marines eventually returned to North Carolina, but they may travel through Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield at a later point. He praised the community’s support of the Marines during their time in the area.

Thursday morning’s breakfast also included presentations about the AUSA’s conference last year and the post’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program. Michael T. Plummer, a member of the chapter’s board of directors, urged members to voice concerns that can then be tackled by the national organization.

“We have the power if we make our voices heard,” he said.

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