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Owens: Fort Drum must be first pick for missile placement

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As the military determines the necessity and potential location of an East Coast missile defense site, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said it is critical for Fort Drum to be the military’s first choice.

“I feel pretty positive Fort Drum has all the right attributes for the missile defense site,” he said Monday in Watertown. “The question is determining on a national basis: A, we need it; B, we can pay for it.”

He said he expects decisions on both questions from the Missile Defense Agency in the spring. Even if the agency determines the site isn’t needed, there could be a push in Congress to move ahead anyway, Mr. Owens said.

“For us, the critical place is making sure Fort Drum is the location that’s selected,” he said.

Mr. Owens was asked about missile placement in a news conference at his office in Watertown before an appearance in Beaver Falls. Congress has appropriated about $20 million to continue evaluating the decision. In September, Fort Drum made a five-site short list for further review, along with Camp Ethan Allen, Vt.; Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center, Ohio; Naval Air Station Portsmouth SERE Training Area, Maine; and Fort Custer Training Center, Mich.

Mr. Owens said Fort Drum’s advantages are its infastructure and facilities.

“It’s got everything; they don’t have to rebuild,” he said. “I think that’s a very important part of the Missile Defense Agency’s decision making. Can we basically install the missile facility and then really not worry too much about the rest of the infastructure? Clearly, Fort Drum fits that bill better than anybody else.”

He said the push for the post was a unified effort that included state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, said last summer that he wanted to see the results of a military site study before giving an opinion about placing missiles.

Mr. Owens also addressed possible job cuts at Fort Drum. Asked about a potential reduction of about 2,800 soldier and civilian jobs from fiscal years 2012 through 2017, Mr. Owens said the figure to look at is the number of troops present on post. Reduced deployments around the end of 2014 could limit the impact of any reduction.

“I think we’ll see an increase in the net number of troops present,” he said.

The Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization has said cuts will include about 400 civilian employees. Mr. Owens said that he is waiting to see how the reductions are made, and that he hopes a change in funding or operations could keep some workers employed.

A federal spending bill under debate in Congress would reduce sequestration budget cuts by about $30 billion over the next two fiscal years. This fall, civilian workers on post went on furlough for six days as the Pentagon sought to reduce its budget.

“The fact we’ve alleviated that, I view as a major win,” Mr. Owens said. “That would’ve had dramatic, negative impacts on soldiers and on the civilian employees.”

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