WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Army should hold off on plans to cut troops in Alaska because of the state's strategic location and advancing Russian military activity, the Army's Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said Wednesday.
The comments, made during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, followed a long effort by Alaska lawmakers to reverse the military's plans to make deep cuts to the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, known as the "4-25."
The cuts -- including 2,631 troops and an untold number of civilian jobs, mostly at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage -- were announced in July 2015 as part of a decision to draw down troop levels nationally to cut defense spending.
Great discussion this morning with #USArmy NCOs from units across #Alaska and @SenDanSullivan pic.twitter.com/ukBp1b2zpI GEN Mark A. Milley (@GENMarkMilley) February 11, 2016
Milley said "it would be contrary to U.S. national strategic control interests to go ahead and pull out 4-25 at this time. So my thought is that we should extend them at least a year to see how the strategic situation develops, and then move from there."
The statement aligns with previous indications from military personnel who have said the cuts are on hold during a review of the situation.
Milley, a four-star general who assumed his position last year, noted at the hearing that Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan asked him to review the situation after he was nominated for his position.
"So I've done that. I've gone to school on the situation ... and I've concluded after about four, five, six months here of pretty intensive study, that Russia is not only acting aggressively in Europe, they're also asserting themselves in the Pacific and specifically in the Arctic," Milley said. "They've activated additional brigades. They've put up some command and control capabilities, and they've done some other things in the north."
The 4-25 has unique deployment capabilities -- by air and by sea -- relative to "any hot spot" in the Pacific and elsewhere, Milley said. "We've got a national capability there that I think is worthwhile keeping," he said.
Milley cited his visit to JBER on Feb. 12, when he met with commanders and soldiers along with Sullivan.
"So I think we need to at least keep them for an additional year -- defer our decision for one year. And that would be my best military advice at the time," Milley said.
While Milley made his opinion clear, the final call lies with the head of the U.S. Army.
Currently, that is Acting Army Secretary Patrick Murphy. The Senate confirmed Murphy as Army undersecretary in December. He has been acting as secretary of the Army since January, when the nominee to head the branch, Eric Fanning, stepped aside while awaiting Senate confirmation.
Asked in a hearing Wednesday where he stands on the matter, Murphy said he plans to visit Alaska himself and hopes to provide a final answer soon.
"I've been partnering with Chief Milley on this," Murphy said. He noted that he served in an airborne unit, like the 4-25, and sees them as "an incredible asset." Murphy, a former Pennsylvania congressman, served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, according to the Army.
Murphy also noted that Milley described training facilities in Alaska as "second to none, [and] that we've invested a lot of money up there."
Thanks to @SenThadCochran, @SenatorDurbin and the SAC-D for hearing #Army concerns and supporting the team! pic.twitter.com/peBiAB2deM Patrick J. Murphy (@PatrickMurphyPA) February 24, 2016