State bracing for big military job cuts

Crosscut archive image.

Traffic outside a Joint Base Lewis-McChord gate in 2010. A series of ongoing projects aim to ease congestion.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord could lose as many as 11,000 military personnel this year, a good one-fourth of the roughly 42,000 troops and airmen stationed there.

“This could be larger than any private sector downsizing we have seen,” said Kristine Reeves, the governor’s lead on military and defense sector issues.

“We have to prepare our state for the transitions to come,” said Gov. Jay Inslee at Wednesday’s first meeting of a task force to map out how to deal with the impending downsizing as Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It is unknown when the size of that downsizing, currently estimated at anywhere from 6,000 to 11,000 personnel, will be known, although it is possible that could be soon.

Congressional sequestration budget-cutting moves have led to a potential trimming of the U.S. Army’s strength from 570,000 to 440,000 soldiers. Similar estimates for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force are not available so far.

The biggest military post in Washington is Joint Base Lewis-McChord, with 42,000 military personnel, including about 5,400 airmen, and about 15,000 civilians. There are also Navy bases in Kitsap and Snohomish counties plus Fairchild Air Force Base at Spokane. Washington military and defenses-oriented projects generate about $13 billion a year for business across the state — about 3 percent of the state’s gross domestic production. That $13 billion includes $4 billion annually in JBLM’s home, Pierce County, $4.7 billion in King County, $1.2 billion in naval-oriented Kitsap County, $366 million in Spokane County and $304 million in Snohomish County, where the Navy has a homeport at Everett.

After Pierce, Kitsap County has the second-highest number of military and civilian Defense Department employees in the state, at almost 7,500. Spokane County has roughly 6,400 Air Force military and civilian employees. Snohomish County and King County have about 4,500 Department of Defense and civilian employees apiece.

Overall, Washington has 112,560 military and civilian Department of Defense employees, with 57 percent being active duty military, 26 percent civilians, and 17 percent in the reserves or Washington National Guard.

So far, the best information that the state government possesses on potential military personnel cuts is the 6,000 to 11,000 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Reeves said. Washington officials will meet with the Pentagon next week, which would be the earliest that the state might get a more definitive estimate. It is unknown how the Army cuts at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will affect the numbers of civilians, and how Air Force personnel at the base may be cut.

On Wednesday, the governor’s task force learned it will be divided into committees to tackle the economic fallout and recovery from the cuts, social services needs that may arise, and workforce development and education issues.

The entire task force plans to meet again on June 30, when it could have more information on the size of the cuts.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8