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They’re going to keep most capable, the most ready to be deployed... that defines Ft. Drum.

Owens optimistic about Ft. Drum's role in refocused defense

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President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced sweeping plans for the country's defense yesterday. The new strategy has to accommodate a half billion dollars in budget cuts. Among other strategies, it predicts "smaller conventional ground forces." And a shift of focus to Asia.

The Army's 10th Mt. Division has been among the most heavily deployed units as America fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were immediate concerns about what the new vision yesterday would mean for the Fort Drum. Julie Grant caught up with Congressman Bill Owens of Plattsburgh yesterday, and finds him optimistic.

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Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

The plans announced by President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta include shrinking the Army and pulling back from Europe.

This news comes as Fort Drum — and the Watertown area — are in the midst of a major construction boom, designed to house larger numbers of service members, along with their families.

Congressman Bill Owens isn’t worried.  He says the new military plans could actually be good news for Fort Drum.

 “One of the things that the president and secretary Panetta, indicated was that they’re looking to preserve a light, mobile well trained force, so I think that sounds like the 10th mountain division.  So I think this in fact may be good news for us, so that’s the way I’m going to look at it, until I hear something different. I think we all know we’re going to see some downsizing.  I’m not really of the belief that that’s going to adversely affect Fort Drum.  There maybe some reduction in troops, but I don’t think it’s going to be material.”

Owens says this isn’t just his own speculation. 

 “Actually, it comes from conversations with senior military leaders, and they’re indicating to me that because of the fact that 10th mountain division, one of the most deployed, because in high state of readiness, that it’s much more difficult to bring a division to a readiness level, then it is to maintain it.  So I think all of that speaks well to the work the 10th mountain has done and will continue to do.

The new military strategy suggests reducing U.S. military presence in Europe, and making Asia a bigger priority.  That could indicate less need for east coast troops, and more use of west coast troops, with easier access to Asia. But Owens doesn’t see that as an issue.

 “First of all, I think what they’re looking out in terms of Asia is maintaining the carrier force, which means it will basically be naval operations.  I think we’ll going to have to have a light mobile force like the 10th mountain to be deployed throughout the world, and it can be deployed very quickly, and that’s one its great strengths.  So I don’t see that really being a factor, the issue of being in southeast Asia.  The 10 mountain division has been deployed many many times to middle east, and it’s not many more hours by plane.”

 JG: But reducing ground troops is something that is…

 “It is, they’re going to maintain a baseline of troops.  They going to keep most capable, the most ready to be deployed, and I think that defines Fort Drum.”

 While Owens says it makes sense to keep Fort Drum intact to maintain the new military strategy, he’s not sure about the plan to drawdown the troops.

“Certainly, it’s an area of concern  going down an additional 30-thosuand troops to 490-thousand. Certainly raises questions about how the plan is going to be implemented.   I believe it was going to over a ten year periord, so it’s not something that’s going to happen immediately, it also means when you’re doing something gradually, you can always reverse it if it’s not working appropriatel”

There are other ways the president’s cost cutting could affect Fort Drum.  The plan hints that defense employees may pay more out-of-pocket costs for health care.

Officials cited that as a way to reduce expenses without undermining  war-fighting and preparation.

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