FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) – The military has decided to scrap plans to add one combat brigade each to Army posts in Georgia, Colorado and Texas, Army Secretary Pete Geren announced Tuesday.

Losing out were Fort Stewart, Ga., Fort Carson, Colo., and Fort Bliss, Texas. The posts and surrounding communities were told in December 2007 to expect more troops by fiscal 2011.

The Army had planned to increase its total number of brigades – each with 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers – from 43 to 48.

Communities surrounding the bases are undergoing multimillion-dollar expansions in anticipation of more troops. The news that a brigade wasn’t coming disappointed the mayor of Hinesville, a southeast Georgia city that had expected an influx of about 4,000 new soldiers at neighboring Fort Stewart.

“You can’t hang a small community like ours out to dry without having consequences,” said Mayor Jim Thomas.

The proposal to add five brigades was part of the Army’s plan to grow by 65,000 active-duty soldiers.

It reached that goal – 574,000 total soldiers – earlier this year.

Then in April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed a plan to trim defense spending that called for scaling back the expansion to just 45 brigades.

In Washington, Geren said the Army had decided to back Gates’ recommendation for President Barack Obama’s budget. However, local officials hoping to revive the added brigades could still ask Congress to amend the president’s budget.

“I understand the tough economic impact this decision will have on the communities that have worked so hard to prepare for the arrival of the three brigades,” Geren said. “They are great partners with the Army, and we will need their continued support.”

John Cook, mayor of El Paso, which surrounds Fort Bliss, said he wasn’t that concerned about losing out on one brigade.

“I’m still very comfortable with the investment that the Pentagon has made in El Paso and Fort Bliss,” he said.

In 2007, Fort Bliss had about 14,000 soldiers stationed there, and the Army expansion was expected to balloon the population to nearly 30,000 soldiers.

As of 2003, Fort Carson had about 14,500 troops and the expansion was expected to raise that to some 30,000 by 2011.

State Rep. Bob Gardner, whose district is adjacent to Fort Carson, said not having the brigades is a “significant loss to the economic health of the community.”

“Fort Carson is already one of the top employers in all of Colorado. It’s a loss not only to Colorado Springs, but the state as a whole,” he said. Fort Carson is about 10 miles south of Colorado Springs.

Brian Binn, president of military affairs for the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, said Fort Carson is still a major economic driver, pumping about $1.8 billion into the region each year.

At Fort Stewart, home to three combat brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division, another brigade had been expected to add about 4,000 soldiers to the roughly 20,000 stationed here – plus 6,000 civilian family members.

Thomas said about $450 million had been dedicated in Hinesville to build new schools, expand water services and erect new homes outside Fort Stewart.

He said local officials would lobby Congress to restore the new brigade to the budget.



Associated Press Writers Regina Burns in Dallas and Ivan Moreno in Denver contributed to this report. Russ Bynum has covered the military based in Georgia since 2001.

AP-ES-06-02-09 2151EDT


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