Nearly 500 military jobs will leave Southern Arizona next year as part of a major staff reduction at the region's largest military installation.

And about another 700 jobs could disappear over the next few years if the Army transfers the remaining soldiers from Fort Huachuca's 11th Signal Brigade to other posts around the country.

Army headquarters announced plans this week to relocate 487 signal soldiers and one civilian staffer from Fort Huachuca to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, by mid-2011.

The change is being made so signal soldiers, who install and maintain Army communications systems, will be at the same home post as troops they deploy with, rather than being centralized at Fort Huachuca, officials said.

An Army Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, said the upcoming transfer involves troops from the fort's 86th Signal Battalion, one of the units that make up the 11th Signal Brigade.

Packnett said there are no plans "at this time" for further job cuts at the Army post about 75 miles southeast of Tucson.

But military watchers in Sierra Vista said Army budget documents show the service also is considering moving Fort Huachuca's 40th Signal Battalion to Fort Lewis in Washington state in the next few years.

At that point, the only signal personnel remaining at Fort Huachuca would be those in the brigade's headquarters operation.

"We may lose the other battalion sometime down the road to Fort Lewis, and then that means, why do you need headquarters here? So the headquarters could also move at some point," said Tom Finnegan, a past president of the Fort Huachuca 50, a military support group.

"Obviously, if we had our way we would want to keep those jobs here," said Finnegan, who also is co-chair of Arizona's military affairs commission.

"But I think most of us understand that the Army has its needs, and the world changes."

Sierra Vista Mayor Bob Strain said many of the 487 soldiers leaving next year have families that live off-post and attend local schools. Their departure will have a discernable impact on the area, he said.

"That's a noticeable loss of population, even in a town of 46,000," Strain said. "It's not positive news from an economic standpoint."

Still, he said, some of the job losses would be offset by recent increases in other activities at Fort Huachuca such as intelligence training and unmanned-aerial-vehicle operations.

A 2008 state study found that Fort Huachuca provides about 9,500 direct jobs, both military and civilian, and injects close to $2.4 billion a year into the area's economy.

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Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at or at 573-4138.