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Originally published June 25, 2013 at 12:20 PM | Page modified June 25, 2013 at 4:32 PM

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Lewis-McChord to lose one Stryker Brigade, thousands of soldiers

The loss of one of its Stryker brigades and other cuts will bring Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s force level to 26,500 soldiers, according to U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Army will cut a Stryker Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord as part of an upcoming change in its force structure, according to U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, who was informed of the action Tuesday.

“With the Iraq war over and the war in Afghanistan coming to a close next year, the U.S. Army will begin the process of returning to reduced troop levels. This is a necessary, natural and appropriate action,” Heck said in a statement.

The loss of the Stryker Brigade and other cuts will bring the base’s force level to 26,500 soldiers, according to Heck.

Lewis-McChord now has 33,645 active-duty troops, according to I Corps officials at the base, so that would appear to be a cut of more than 7,000 soldiers from present levels.

However, a spokesman for Heck said the congressman was told the base has 32,100 soldiers on active duty, which would indicate a smaller reduction from present levels.

The cut in active soldiers is also expected to result in reductions in civilian personnel that support base operations, but no numbers on those cutbacks were available.

The Stryker brigades have been the most high-profile units at Lewis-McChord.

Before the start of these wars, what was then Fort Lewis served as the major testing ground for the eight-wheeled Strykers, which were fielded as a new generation of Army vehicles with multiple variants. The brigades built around these vehicles repeatedly deployed to Iraq and then to Afghanistan.

The 4th Brigade 2nd Infantry Division, which deployed to Iraq and now has some soldiers serving in Afghanistan, is the Stryker Brigade slated for the cut, according to Heck. That brigade has about 4,270 soldiers, and about 600 of them will be added to units that remain at Lewis-McChord, according to an Army briefing document provided to Heck.

Heck said that the loss of the brigade is unrelated to this year’s federal budget sequestration, which has resulted in furloughs to many civilian Defense Department workers and other reductions.

The cuts come after a period of major expansion at the base, which is a joint Air Force and Army installation. During the post-9/11 period, the base added 19,528 Army soldiers to reach a level this year that includes more than 47,000 Air Force and Army active-duty personnel, according to Army statistics released in April.

The cuts are part of a broader downsizing of the Army that by 2017 will have reduced active-duty personnel to 490,000 from a wartime peak of 570,000 in 2010.

In a meeting with community leaders in April, Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, commander of the Army’s I Corps at Lewis-McChord, said the base could be spared any cuts — or lose up to 8,000 soldiers as well as civilians who support those troops.

Responding to the news Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the base will remain “one of the premier military installations in America,” and that she was encouraged the Army will add battalions to other brigade combat teams on the base.

Even after forces are reduced to some 26,500 soldiers, the base will be staffed substantially above the 16,300 soldiers on active duty there before 9/11.

Lewis-McChord is one of 10 U.S. military installations across the country that by 2017 will have lost a brigade combat team, according to an Army briefing document.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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