The Army has proposed cutting up to 2,700 military and civilian jobs at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca, nearly halving the number of jobs at the Sierra Vista installation as part of an Army-wide force restructuring.
The Army plan would cut its total forces from a wartime high of 570,000 soldiers to about 440,000 to 450,000 in the next few years and as low as 420,000 by 2019.
The cuts had been discussed previously but more details emerged as the Army opened a 60-day public comment period on an environmental and socioeconomic assessment of its 2020 force restructuring plan.
Fort Huachuca is Cochise County’s biggest employer and the eighth-largest employer in Southern Arizona, with 5,717 soldiers and civilian employees, not counting contractors, according to the 2014 Star 200 survey of the region’s major employers.
The proposed action is similar to a plan last year but is broader and “allows for deeper potential reductions,” the Army said. Fort Huachuca was not included in an analysis of reduction options last year.
The post’s major tenants are the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) and the U.S. Army Intelligence Center.
A Cochise County economic development official said the plan would deal a serious blow to the area’s economy.
“Obviously there’s a concern if this goes through, and we’re hoping it doesn’t,” said Mignonne Hollis, executive director of the Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation. “We have to remember, this is the worst-case scenario. The military in its briefings to us has been very clear about that.”
But there’s no doubt that any deep cuts would hit Sierra Vista and Cochise County hard.
“It would be detrimental to our community, but we have a couple of things going for us there, because they are looking at the environmental issues and socioeconomics,” Hollis said, noting that Fort Huachuca has a good environmental record and is the area’s biggest employer.
A 2008 report shows Fort Huachuca had a total regional economic impact of $2.4 billion, including indirect and induced effects.
According to the Army assessment, the proposed maximum reduction of 2,739 active-duty military and civilian positions at Fort Huachuca would also cost more than 500 direct-service contract jobs and another 570 “induced” jobs. The region would lose some $193 million in income and $209 million in sales annually.
The jobs and income figures, representing reductions of 4 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively, are not enough for a finding of “significant impact” that could prompt further review or changes to the plan.
But the projected 7.3 percent drop in employment in the region is far above the threshold of 4.4 percent for a finding of a significant impact from “economic contraction,” and a projected population loss of 3.4 percent is three times larger than the level at which the decline is considered significant.
Because Fort Huachuca is the dominant employer in a rural region with few other opportunities, the Army report said, most displaced employees will probably move out of the area to find new jobs.
Hollis said her agency and other community partners have been working with U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, a Tucson Democrat, to see what can be done to stem any cuts, and the economic-development group hired a lobbyist last year.
“We’re trying to get ahead of whatever curve you can get ahead of with something like this, and we are working to try and diversify our economy,” she said.
In a news release, Barber said he would fight to block the cuts, citing the post’s importance as a center of intelligence, cyberwarfare and drone operations.
“Given all that Fort Huachuca has provided the Army over the past several decades and the uncertainties of future conflicts our nation’s military faces, I believe the Army should continue to support the outstanding capabilities found at Fort Huachuca,” Barber said.
Barber is running for re-election in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.
Martha McSally, a former Air Force pilot who is running for the Republican nomination, said she has firsthand knowledge of Fort Huachuca’s unique and vital capabilities, and she vowed to work to stop the cuts.
“Cuts of this size would seriously damage our military capabilities and the Sierra Vista economy. We must do all we can to prevent these cuts and defend the crucial missions carried out at Fort Huachuca,” McSally said in an email.
Chuck Wooten, another Air Force retiree seeking the Republican nomination in District 2, said he opposes plans to cut the nation’s military force to “pre-WWII levels.”
“My position as a retired, senior leader is that this approach by the secretary (of defense) is both reckless and irresponsible, especially in the global threats we have staring us down on a daily basis,” Wooten said in a statement, blaming the Obama administration.
A third Republican candidate, small-business owner Shelley Kais, noted that the cuts would extend beyond military jobs to the loss of high-wage defense contractor jobs.
“This represents a huge economic impact in Southern Arizona, especially Sierra Vista,” Kais said in an email, urging people to write letters of support for Fort Huachuca to the Arizona congressional delegation.