OLYMPIA – State officials are preparing to blunt the effects of losing as many as 11,000 Army jobs – along with the experience and economic benefits that come with them – from a possible reduction at Washington’s largest military base.
Gov. Jay Inslee held the first meeting Wednesday of his Subcabinet on Military Downsizing, with representatives of state agencies, business and community groups bracing for an announcement as early as June 23 on reductions at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma. The state already has some programs to help military members with jobs or education when they leave the armed forces, and “we need to ramp that up,” Inslee said.
“Downsizing doesn’t just affect individuals but the whole community,” he said.
Washington ranks sixth among all states for the level of military activity. The Department of Defense employs about 110,000 people, both military and civilian workers, and works with about 2,000 contractors in the state, said Brian Bonlender, director of the Washington Department of Commerce, which is taking the lead to prepare for possible downsizing.
The reductions could be between 6,000 and 11,000 personnel, but there’s no indication yet on the levels or the types of operations that could be affected.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” Bonlender said. “We have to be flexible and responsible for whatever happens next week.”
Many of the soldiers who leave the military as a result of the downsizing will return to their original home states. But as many as 40 percent could decide to stay in Washington to look for work, start businesses or go to school. Keeping talented veterans in the state who have learned valuable skills while in the military is a high priority, Inslee said.
Consultants have drawn up organizational diagrams, complete with flow charts, arrows and boxes, that break down responsibilities for different agencies and community groups to provide employment and education assistance. But Inslee told the group not to think in terms of arrows, boxes and graphs.
“Think in terms of individuals,” he said.
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