The Topeka Capital-Journal - January 23, 2013, By JOHN MILBURN, Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Governor's Military Council is preparing to make the case for maintaining the presence of the armed forces in Kansas ahead of likely widespread cuts in defense spending.
At a meeting Wednesday, the council focused on the potential loss of spending and personnel at Fort Riley, Fort Leavenworth and McConnell Air Force Base. The Department of Defense projects cutting 114,000 personnel nationwide by 2021.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said Kansas needed to be aggressive in protecting the military presence and the economic impact that it has on the state. He said the likelihood of federal spending cuts in the coming years were certain, but there were steps the state could take to support the bases and look for areas where costs and resources could be shared to maintain their financial viability.
"I think we're going to be at this for a decade," Brownback, a former U.S. senator, told the council.
Kansas has seen significant military growth since the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process. The biggest beneficiary was Fort Riley, which saw the return of the 1st Infantry Division headquarters and a huge influx of soldiers and families. Nearly $2 billion was spent on construction alone at Fort Riley, and the growth spurred a wave of economic activity in the Central Flint Hills Region, including new housing, schools and infrastructure.
Brig. Gen. Donald MacWillie, acting commanding general of Fort Riley, said those times of growth had created a new normal. But he cautioned that those times were ending, creating new challenges to prevent reductions in the number of soldiers and Fort Riley's mission.
"The complexities of more have hit us," MacWillie said.
To get ahead of the defense cuts, Fort Riley has expanded partnerships with nearby Junction City and Manhattan to begin looking at ways to share costs and resources.
Ben Van Becelaere, head of plans, analysis and integration at Fort Riley, said working groups looking at ways to maximize dollars through bulk purchasing of supplies for things such as road maintenance materials, training and emergency services.
"We were told that the austere times were coming," Van Becelaere said. "We're very confident that we've got a good structure to tackle this."
Brownback suggested that Kansas look at what it could do to help the military reduce costs, including taking over the maintenance of the Fort Riley's roads, if legally possible.
Steve Hyjek, a Washington consultant who worked with Kansas on the 2005 BRAC, said such efforts were a good start and would help make the case for the installations. However, he told the council that the cuts in the Army alone are expected to impact 21 forts across the country — either through reductions, closures or assigning new soldiers to different bases.
Hyjek said it was likely that the next BRAC would take place in 2015 and be completed sometime after 2021.
Based on projections released by the Department of Defense, Fort Riley could see changes in the range of the addition of 3,000 soldiers to a reduction of 8,000 soldiers, depending on the Pentagon's decisions. Cuts in other spending and civilian jobs are expected, as well. There are about 18,000 soldiers assigned presently to Fort Riley. The data was recently released in an environmental assessment for proposed changes in the Army.
"The point is these are big numbers," Hyjek said. "This is going to be a force transformation that truly transforms the force."
The council is also watching the competition among states to house the new KC-46 air refueling tanker, as McConnell and Topeka's Forbes Field were named finalists. The decision is expected later this year.
The council plans to travel to Washington to meet with congressional and military leaders later this spring.
Earlier Wednesday, Brownback signed a proclamation marking Thursday as Armed Forces Day in Kansas, an annual event honoring the military for its presence in the state and the service to the nation.
To view this article at the source publication, go to http://cjonline.com/news/2013-01-23/kansas-leaders-discuss-militarys-future-state.
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