The Army received more than 111,000 responses to an economic impact report warning that military communities could be hurt by deep cuts in the force. Focusing on 30 stateside locations, the report from the U.S. Army Environmental Command, entitled Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment for Army 2020 Force Structure Realignment, alerted military communities of possible reductions of more than 16,000 soldiers and Army civilians at some installations by 2020 as a result of budget-driven force realignments.The report, first issued in April 2013, is part of the planning cycle as the Army drops from its peak 562,000 active duty soldiers to 490,000 under the current five-year defense plan. Some of the reductions are already happening, with five brigade combat teams inactivated in fiscal year 2014 and another five scheduled to be shuttered this year.The assessment analyzes the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of substantial force cuts, but Army officials have tried to stress that decisions have not been made. “This does not mean that these losses will actually occur to the full extent analyzed or even that each installation analyzed will incur losses,” the updated Army report says. The analysis “is just one input among many that will help inform Army senior leaders.”There is a possibility the Army could drop to as few as 420,000 active duty soldiers if the combination of reduced defense budgets and sequestration further reduces funding. “The Army recognizes that cuts down to 420,000 soldiers could have serious impacts to the installations and communities that host the nation’s force, and this document is intended to determine and disclose those impacts,” the Army says in the update.It will come as no surprise most people hated the idea of reducing the payroll at their local base, with many questioning the Army’s motives for even speaking of the possibility. Part of the concern comes from DoD and Army leaders pleading with Congress to approve another round of base closing. Many commenters viewed the impact warnings as the beginning of a process that could lead to closing an installation in their community. The Army has tried to quell that concern, saying, “This analysis is not in support of any proposed BRAC action,” referring to the base closure and realignment process used in previous years.BRAC remains on the Pentagon’s wish list. Army Secretary John M. McHugh mentioned the need for base closing during a visit last December to Fort Drum, N.Y., the area he once represented as a U.S. congressman. The Army needs to downsize, he said in an interview with the local Watertown Daily Times newspaper, speaking of the possibility of troop cuts. “Without base closures, we’re going to have to do that at every post, camp and station, including Fort Drum,” he said. “No corner of the Army will escape the pain of that process.”The force structure impact report warns that Fort Drum could lose 16,000 uniformed and civilian employees, the maximum projected loss. Also listed with a potential loss of 16,000 were: Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; and U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii.The Army says in the report that comments “will provide greater perspective to Army decision makers as they begin the process of making difficult force structure determinations.” Perspective doesn’t necessarily mean impact, but the Army acknowledges there were some good arguments made. For example, many people said their installations had significant capacity to expand, which the Army said is possible. Installations with brigade combat teams will have their developmental potential considered during force structure changes, the Army responded.A troubling undercurrent in the comments is that the public could lose trust in the Army from significant cuts, especially the trust of people in communities that have made a substantial investment toward the Army, often in infrastructure development. These communities fear their investment could be wasted, with few prospects for making up the losses because there is fierce competition among communities for business expansion. The Army’s summary of comments says there is concern about devastating economic impacts, especially to local and small businesses. There are fears about the potential loss of housing value in the local market caused by vacancies resulting from force reductions. A reduced tax base could hurt local government services, there could be reductions in business travel and tourism, and there is a potential for increased crime, commenters said.There were some unique complaints, like one from someone near Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., who said traffic could get worse if people had to find new jobs because all of the major roads led to the installation. At Fort Campbell, Ky., a commenter said the loss of soldiers wasn’t so bad, but big cuts leading to reduced base services might mean military retirees will no longer want to live in the area. An individual from Fort Drum said their installation had to be protected to protect geographic distribution of the Army, an argument that was also made by commenters from Alaska worried about possible reductions at Fort Wainwright and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. At Fort Jackson, S.C., there were concerns that cutting the workforce could kill the local airport because 20 percent of the traffic is related to people attending graduation of soldiers from basic training.Also unique, the Army says, is that no specific comments were received regarding Fort Irwin, Calif. They would not explain why but noted there were lots of universal comments that covered common issues.Those commenting about force cuts at Fort Wainwright weren’t sure how the community could recover, because military families account for 20 percent of the population in Fairbanks. A few people said, however, they thought the community would continue to thrive with reduced operations, and one person said increased Army presence could lead to improper land use, hurting the area’s economy.Some complaints fall outside the Army’s authority. For example, one person commenting about proposed cuts in Hawaii said the Army shouldn’t be cut until foreign aid is reduced or eliminated. This prompted a response noting that distribution of foreign aid “is not within the purview of the Army.”What stands out in comments about potential cuts at Fort Carson is that several commenters supported cutting the number of soldiers, saying it could help the local economy and help the environment. Two people said military growth in Colorado Springs from Fort Carson and other bases had a detrimental effect on the local economy, preventing other businesses from flourishing. Another praised the cuts for saving the taxpayers up to $1 billion. One said closing 234,000 acres at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site had hurt agriculture and resulted in lost tax revenue for local government, and urged the land to be returned to Las Animas County.There were similar comments in reference to Hawaii. One commenter suggested a significant reduction in Army forces would have a beneficial impact because of reduced use of training ranges.The Army analysis is a worst-case look, with the cumulative cuts totally more than required. If all of the reductions were made, the active duty Army would fall well below 420,000, which Army leaders have calculated is their bottom line if forced to reduce spending because of both budget caps and sequestration.There is no clear timeline for what happens next. Decisions about the 2016 budget won’t be made until later this year, and the threat of sequestration is expected to hang over the Army until the 2016 budget is resolved.