FORT DRUM (AP) - The U.S. Army announced plans Tuesday to eliminate one of three combat brigades at northern New York's Fort Drum.
The cuts are part of a massive restructuring to slash the number of active-duty combat brigades from 45 to 33 and cut the overall size of the Army by 80,000 over several years.
The cuts will take place over the next four years. A brigade is about 3,500 soldiers, but the head of the regional liaison organization said additions to the other two brigades will reduce the overall cut to about 1,500.
Fort Drum, which sprawls over 107,000 acres near the Canadian border, is home to the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry fighting force that was expanded in 2005, even as 180 other installations around the country were closed. A fourth brigade was added to the division, though it is stationed at Fort Polk in Louisiana.
Fort Drum was the only major New York post to survive closures that claimed Plattsburgh Air Force Base in 1995 and Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome in 1993.
The news was unwelcome in a community that has linked its fortunes and its identity to the post.
"I gotta tell you, we are a garrison town," said Carl McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization. "You don't hear that term very often anymore, but if you walk around downtown, walk into a bank, walk into a restaurant, you're going to see green-suiters doing their business. They're picking up their kids from school."
"They are part of the fabric of this community; they are the economic driver," he said.
In recent years, the Defense Department has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on infrastructure improvements at Fort Drum, making it one of the Army's most modern facilities and transforming it into the military's largest training reserve in the Northeast. It's also a testing ground for the Marine Corps, Air Force, National Guard and Army. As many as 80,000 troops train at Fort Drum each year.
The FDRLO, which has lobbied for years to support the post, worked to accommodate the addition of the third brigade as well as the expansion of the aviation and sustainment brigades.
"We went over authorized strength and had as many as 19,000 soldiers here and we met that challenge so it's a letdown to think we might lose some of those soldiers," McLaughlin said.
In part because of the ready clientele at the post, April Johnson opened April's Cake Shop in Watertown just under two years ago.
A brigade being eliminated "does affect my business. A great part of our customer clientele are either soldiers themselves or military wives," she said.
"I think it's unfortunate," she said. "With all the military expansion, they've put a lot of military housing up for it, so with the decrease in soldiers, there's going to be a lot of empty apartments."
For more than two decades after it was reactivated in 1985, it was America's busiest Army unit. Its troops were on the front lines fighting against al-Qaida insurgents in Iraq and routed the Taliban from the Shah-e-Kot mountains in Afghanistan during the early phases of that war.
The division gained international acclaim after the daring rescue of the ambushed Army Rangers from Mogadishu in 1993, a feat that inspired the best-selling book and movie "Black Hawk Down."