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The Courier-Journal May 15, 2005

Part of 1st Armored Division could return to Fort Knox

Analysts say post would fit mission

By James R. Carroll

WASHINGTON -- The 1st Armored Division, born 65 years ago at Kentucky's Fort Knox as World War II approached, might be in line for at least a partial homecoming, two defense analysts believe.

Changes at Fort Knox proposed by the Pentagon on Friday as part of a broad military restructuring may lead eventually to moving some units of the combat-ready 1st Armored there, the analysts said.

Fort Knox is where tank training is conducted, but the post's Army Armor Center and School would relocate under the proposal.

In its place, a combat infantry brigade would come in.

Putting a single combat brigade at Fort Knox does not justify keeping the post open, analyst John Pike said. And beyond that, he said, the Army says it wants to bring the 1st Armored home from Europe.

"You've already got a fort that has all the (shooting) ranges you need for an armored division," said Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Va.-based defense and research organization.

"It's already got all of the wash racks you need for all of the (armored) vehicles."

Lawrence Korb, former assistant defense secretary under President Ronald Reagan and now an analyst for the Washington-based Center for American Progress, said he believes the Pentagon would have sought to close Fort Knox if it didn't have its armor assets.

But Michael O'Hanlon at the Brookings Institution said he's skeptical about whether part of the 1st Armored will end up at Fort Knox.

"I would not exclude the possibility of one brigade being justification" for keeping the post viable, said O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Washington think tank.

Several other U.S. military posts, including bases in Hawaii and Colorado, have single brigades and are still considered major facilities, he said.

The Pentagon said it plans to bring about 70,000 American troops from Europe back to the United States and could begin bringing the 1st Armored home from Germany in 2007.

But the independent Overseas Basing Commission earlier this month questioned the timing and reasons for that plan, saying the United States should keep more troops in Europe for now.

The commission urged Defense Department officials to re-examine the plan.

Under the Pentagon's proposal for domestic bases, the loss of armor training at Fort Knox would be partly offset by bringing in an infantry brigade.

The plan will be reviewed by the independent Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission and eventually must be cleared by President Bush and Congress.

The Pentagon also proposed moving some 1st Armored units to Fort Bliss in Texas.

But the net gain of about 11,000 troops at Fort Bliss, added to about 4,000 troops in a 1st Armored brigade now stationed in Kansas, does not account for the entire 40,000-troop division, Pike and Korb said.

"My guess is everything is not going to go to Fort Bliss," Korb said.

"They're going to have to put (the rest) someplace," and Fort Knox is a logical place

He added that it's not unusual to split divisions among bases.

Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood declined to comment on relocation plans for specific units.

Bill Barron, a retired major general who heads the CORE Committee of the Fort Knox Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, a Fort Knox support group, said the 1st Armored's future has not come up in discussions there.

"I like the idea, though," he said.

Copyright 2005, The Courier-Journal