FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Army will turn the 172nd Infantry Brigade at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks and Fort Richardson in Anchorage into one of its new fast-moving, well-armed combat units, according to Sen. Ted Stevens.
Stevens said he was happy to hear of the changes because of recent worries that one or more of Alaska's bases could be targeted for closure.
''This means our two Army bases have a definite role in the future,'' he said. ''It's great news.''
The new unit will be one of six ''Interim Brigade Combat Teams.'' Two such teams already are being developed at Fort Lewis, Wash., Stevens said. The others will be in Alaska, Louisiana, Hawaii and Pennsylvania.
Stevens said the designation should mean new buildings, ranges, training exercises, motor pools and housing at the forts. It may also bring additional soldiers, he said.
Although the Army has announced the plan, transformation work in Alaska won't start until fiscal year 2003, which begins in October 2002, Stevens said. He did not have details on the cost of changes.
The new brigades are envisioned as a way to move the Army away from slow-moving, heavily armored units that have dominated its recent past, Stevens said. Placing one in Alaska, two in Washington and one in Hawaii recognizes that the Pacific arena is the most likely region to require the new brigades.
Stevens said he is still seeking additional funding to build new housing at Fort Wainwright, and the new brigade should provide another argument for it.
President Bush, in his most recent budget, requested about $158 million for military construction in Alaska during the coming fiscal year. That includes $12 million for new family housing at Fort Wainwright, as well as $23 million to address ice fog problems caused by the power plant there and $18.5 million for the new hospital. Another $8.8 million would replace fuel storage tanks at Eielson Air Force Base.
Stevens said the new combat brigades at Fort Lewis were first approved in 1999. Army Secretary Tom White last month suggested that perhaps the entire Army should move away from larger divisions and toward more brigade-size units.
At the 87,000-acre Fort Lewis in western Washington, the Seattle Times reported in February, the goal is to be able to move soldiers anywhere in the world in 96 hours. Fort Lewis is near the Port of Tacoma and McChord Air Base.
The soldiers there use light armored vehicles with wheels instead of heavier tanks with tracks. They learn police-like tactics. They coordinate with drones flying above and fellow soldiers watching computers, the Times reported.
The Army spent about $13 million on the changes last year, the newspaper said.
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