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Listening session Thursday will give community opportunity to talk Fort Drum’s troop levels

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WATERTOWN - The community will have the chance to speak out about the future force levels of Fort Drum at a listening session tonight.

The event, taking place at 5 p.m. at Case Middle School, Washington Street, is one of about 30 planned by the Army across the country this month, as the service determines how it will reduce its numbers from 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers.

Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, said on Wednesday afternoon that he had between 30 and 40 people sign up to speak at the meeting.

“There seems to be a lot of community interest,” he said.

People interested in making a comment during the meeting will also be able to sign up to do so at the door. Mr. McLaughlin said he anticipated the approximately 300 seat facility to be mostly filled.

An Army assessment and subsequent response from the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization stated that local cuts of up to 8,000 soldiers and their dependent family members would spell the loss of thousands of area jobs, along with hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and sales tax revenues. The cuts would also mean funding problems for local school districts, hospitals and housing.

However, a potential increase of as many as 3,000 soldiers from the post would create a noticeable increase in the same categories.

The Army has said that the long-term reductions would likely begin with the fiscal year 2014 budget. Among the possible long-term cuts on the table are reducing the number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 32.

The post currently houses three brigade combat teams, with the 10th Mountain Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team housed at Fort Polk, La.

The meeting is expected to draw several prominent military and political figures.

Among the military representatives at the session will be 10th Mountain Division commander Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, along with a representative from the Headquarters, Department of the Army.

Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said Tuesday it was important for the public to attend, given the post’s impact on the community.

“These are our friends and neighbors,” she said. “We need to be there to show our support for Fort Drum.”

Sen. Ritchie’s website now has a form for people to submit comments about the effect Fort Drum has had for them.

With Congress in session, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand will have representatives in attendance at the meeting. Mr. Owens’ office said Wednesday that the Congressman sent a video message to be played during the session.

Prior to the listening session, FDRLO will hold a normal business meeting at the school at 3:30 p.m.

The long-term force size changes that will be discussed tonight are not linked with automatic federal budget cuts referred to as sequestration, which went into effect March 1.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the cut of 100,000 additional troops is a minimum number if sequestration is allowed to continue.

“The cuts are simply too steep,” he said.

Army Secretary John McHugh said the losses would undermine the service’s ability to be prepared for wartime missions.

“Today we find our Army at a dangerous crossroads,” he said.

Overall, the Defense Department is required to cut nearly $42 billion by the end of September, with the Army’s share of that total $7.6 billion, unless there is legislative action to end the cuts.

In addition, the military already is dealing with cuts of $487 billion over the next decade as a part of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Gen. Odierno said Tuesday that the budget cuts have led to the cancellation of multiple training events and could reduce readiness in areas like the Korean peninsula.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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