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Saturday, December 10, 2016

By James Rosen, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Sweeping budget and personnel cuts proposed Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would hit some military bases hard while protecting others.

With the Army targeted to lose as many as 80,000 active-duty soldiers from its current 520,000-strong force, reaching its smallest size since before World II, major installations like Fort Jackson, S.C., and Fort Hood, Texas, could be scaled back significantly.

The proposal to shrink the world’s mightiest military force comes as the United States seeks to redefine its role in the world, with the Iraq war over and U.S. combat in Afghanistan winding down. That two-front strategy, involving lengthy occupations, severely tested military capabilities. The plan also reflects the competing demands of spending restraints, national security and politics.

Eliminating two dozen A-10 attack planes at Whiteman Air Force Base near Kansas City, for example, is part of a broader move to retire all the aging Warthogs, saving the Pentagon several billion dollars. But lawmakers from Missouri and other states will certainly object.

Meanwhile, installations such as Fort Bragg, N.C.; Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, Wash.; and Fort Campbell, Ky. would likely emerge largely unscathed from the cuts because of their specialized missions.

Hagel said he had recommended the realignment plan to President Barack Obama, who is expected to present his annual budget to Congress next week.

“This is the first time in 13 years we will be presenting a budget to the Congress of the United States that’s not a war-footing budget,” Hagel said.

The Pentagon plan also reflects budget pressures in Washington as partisans struggle over the proper size of government.

Obama’s aides indicated the plan would get a warm reception at the White House.

“The recommendations fit and represent a responsible, realistic approach to supporting the president’s defense strategy,” press secretary Jay Carney said.

Hagel is recommending a 1 percent pay increase for military and civilian employees to match an increase that White House aides said Obama will seek for all federal workers after a three-year wage freeze.

Despite congressional demands to cut overall Pentagon spending, lawmakers almost certainly will oppose hits on installations in their states and resist Hagel’s call for a new round of base closings.

“This is another dumb idea,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Even some Democrats who have burnished reputations as fiscal hawks responded coolly to some aspects of the spending plan for the Pentagon.

“I will be taking a hard look at its new budget proposal to make sure it still provides for the strongest national defense,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee.