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Community to discuss Fort Drum’s troop levels

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The community will have a chance to speak out about the future force levels at Fort Drum during a listening session tonight.

The event, which starts at 5 p.m. at Case Middle School, Washington Street, is one of about 30 planned by the Army across the country this month, as the service determines how it will reduce its numbers from 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers.

Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, said on Wednesday afternoon that he had between 30 and 40 people signed up to speak at the meeting.

“There seems to be a lot of community interest,” he said.

People interested in making a comment during the meeting also will be able to sign up at the door. Mr. McLaughlin said he anticipates the approximately 300-seat facility to be mostly filled.

An Army assessment and subsequent response from FDRLO stated that local cuts of up to 8,000 soldiers and their dependent family members would spell the loss of thousands of area jobs, along with hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and sales tax revenues. The cuts also would mean loss of funding for local school districts, hospitals and housing development.

However, a potential increase of as many as 3,000 soldiers at the post would create a noticeable increase in the same categories.

The Army has said that the long-term reductions likely would begin with the fiscal year 2014 budget. Among the possible long-term cuts on the table are reducing the number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 32.

The post currently houses three brigade combat teams, with the 10th Mountain Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team housed at Fort Polk, La.

The meeting is expected to draw several prominent military and political figures.

Among the military representatives at the session will be 10th Mountain Division commander Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, along with a representative from the Headquarters, Department of the Army.

Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said Tuesday that it is important for the public to attend the session, given the post’s impact on the community.

“These are our friends and neighbors,” she said. “We need to be there to show our support for Fort Drum.”

Sen. Ritchie’s website now has a form for people to submit comments about how Fort Drum has affected them.

Since Congress is in session, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand will have representatives attend the meeting. Mr. Owens’s office said Wednesday that the congressman sent a video message to be played during the session.

Prior to the listening session, FDRLO will hold a normal business meeting at the school at 3:30 p.m.

The long-term force size changes that will be discussed tonight are not linked with automatic federal budget cuts referred to as sequestration, which went into effect March 1.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the cut of 100,000 additional troops is a minimum number if sequestration is allowed to continue.

“The cuts are simply too steep,” he said.

Army Secretary John McHugh said the losses would undermine the service’s ability to be prepared for wartime missions.

“Today we find our Army at a dangerous crossroads,” he said.

Overall, the Defense Department is required to cut nearly $42 billion by the end of September, with the Army’s share of that total being $7.6 billion, unless there is legislative action to end the cuts.

In addition, the military already is dealing with cuts of $487 billion over the next decade as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Gen. Odierno said Tuesday that the budget cuts have led to the cancellation of multiple training events and could reduce readiness in areas like the Korean peninsula.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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