NORFOLK — — Roughly 1,900 jobs will be eliminated in Hampton Roads as the Pentagon moves to downsize and reconfigure Joint Forces Command, its commander said Monday.
The good news: About that same number of positions will survive the cost-cutting, Army Gen. Ray Odierno said
The controversial cuts will save taxpayers about $400 million a year at a time when Congress is trying to rein in spending.
Odierno said he expects a final plan to be ready in 30 to 45 days. Once approved, it will take between 12 and 15 months to implement.
The general held the news briefing to update the public – an anxious public, in the case of Hampton Roads — now that President Obama has formally approved the move to disestablish the command.
Nearly 3,900 people work for JFCOM in Hampton Roads, and they are spread across active-duty military, civilian defense jobs and private contractors.
“We’re working toward 50 percent of that staying here,” Odierno told reporters in a briefing.
He didn’t have details on how specific jobs would fare. However, it appears that the ax will spare positions connected to modeling and simulation,a growing regional industry.
“There is a piece of modeling and simulation that has to continue,that will continue to improve our ability to conduct state of the art joint training,” he said. “That piece will remain.”
Much of that work takes place in Suffolk, and Odierno said he expects the military to still have “a very significant presence” in that city.
Jobs that won’t survive are either being done elsewhere in the military or don’t relate to JFCOM’s core mission, Odierno said.
The major roles that will survive include joint training, developing concepts and doctrine, and providing forces to missions around the world.
Odierno said he was confident whatever is left standing behind will enable the military to sustain its mission of operating and fighting together in a joint manner. The JFCOM acronym will fade from the region’s vocabulary, and there won’t be a new name, Odierno said, because it will not be a separate command.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced last summer he wanted to close JFCOM, which teaches different branches of the military to operate and fight together more effectively. Virginia politicians, concerned about losing thousands of jobs, immediately protested.
Relations between the Pentagon and Virginia leaders were strained throughout the summer and fall. Then in late November, Gates sat down with Virginia’s top elected officials and the atmosphere appeared to improve.
Odierno took command of JFCOM in late October and began meeting with state officials. As the former leader of U.S. forces in Iraq, he oversaw the drawdown of forces there. He pledged to keep the process open.
“Engagement is important,” he said.
The general said he has been impressed by JFCOM’s workforce, but is concerned about their morale as they face the future.
“It is fear of the unknown,” he said. They don’t understand. And I also want to let them know we have mechanisms in place to help them try to gain other employment, especially if you’re DoD civilian. In the military, it’s much easier. We’ll send them somewhere else.”
The issue of contract employees is “much broader,” the general said. A job placement expert told the Daily Press last week that Hampton Roads has a diverse military/defense job base that should make finding a new job easier than in other parts the country.
Hampton Roads is also home to NATO’s Allied Command Transformation, which over the years has established a strong relationship with JFCOM. That helped determine what roles should remain in the region, the general said.
NATO’s ability to link with U.S. concept development process and its training programs has become important, especially with NATO forces fighting side by side with Americans in Afghanistan.
“Leaving the remnants behind where we can maintain that strong relationship is very important piece of this,” he said.
Looking to the long-term future, the general could not predict if Hampton Roads would see significant cuts in defense spending, but the U.S. as a whole should brace for them.
“There’s a lot more coming — of this type of thing,” he said. “The secretary is trying to get ahead, for us to identify where we think we can build some efficiencies before somebody tells us.”