The closure of military bases in the U.S. is unlikely in the near future, but shrinking budgets and cuts to troop strength are issues the public should be greatly concerned about, a former secretary of the Navy told local military and business leaders Thursday.
Will Ball, speaking to the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Council at the Hyatt Regency Savannah, praised Coastal Georgia’s commitment to the military and encouraged its residents to remain engaged with elected officials as the Pentagon prepares to make another round of cuts that could affect installations in Georgia.
“This process requires the will of the majority, and it requires a constituency that for national defense is active and engaged, persuasive and very much in touch with their elected representatives at every level,” said Ball, who served as a naval officer, as the secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, and today heads Gov. Nathan Deal’s Georgia Defense Initiative. “You all here have done your part over the years most effectively. I hope you’ll continue to do that work in the future.”
Georgia — which boasts eight major military installations, including Fort Stewart and Hunter Army airfield in the Savannah area — has already felt the impact of budget cuts at its posts.
Fort Stewart, home of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, shuttered its 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team in January, ultimately losing about 900 soldiers. The Pentagon has said Fort Stewart could face additional cuts as deep as 16,000 troops — which would be roughly three-quarters of its military population — though officials agree reductions that dramatic are unlikely.
What is likely, Ball said, is that Georgia will feel the impact of some of the cuts the Pentagon is expected to announce in the near future.
The Defense Initiative, launched in 2013 in an effort to dissuade Defense Department officials from closing any of the state’s military posts, is focused on mitigating those issues, he said.
Among Ball’s chief concerns are the drastic reductions that would be automatically triggered in fiscal year 2016 should Congress fail to agree on a budget that amends the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Echoing comments made by the nation’s highest ranking military officers, Ball said those cuts — known as sequestration — would hurt national security and could cripple the military’s readiness.
Calling the sequester a “mindless manner of increasing our risk,” Ball called for Georgians to implore their elected officials to reach a new budget agreement.
“Georgia indisputably is the South’s most military-friendly state, and the South is the nation’s most military-friendly region,” Ball said. “… Our job is to articulate to the decision makers the value of the assets here in Georgia, what the capabilities are, how those assets can and should be protected and what steps we can take to ensure that the Pentagon doesn’t make mistakes in judgment based on a snapshot of a specific moment of time that ignores reality.”