Chief Warrant Officer 2 Trina Moreno checks the tail rotor blades on a UH-60 Black Hawk during preflight inspections at Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas. (Army)
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The Army is cutting a whopping 30 percent of its operations and maintenance budget and has issued a warning order that all commands should "slow spending now and plan for the worst."
The good news is that the service isn't cutting more troops than already planned. Wartime operations and Wounded Warrior programs also are protected. But the cuts will affect everything else, from your travel and training to depot maintenance and modernization. Community and recreational activities also will take a big hit.
Soldiers may soon be guarding gates and doing other jobs now covered by civilians. Base Operations Support will be cut by $2.2 billion, and posts are ordered to cut contracts as low as they can go without incurring penalties. That leaves soldiers, who will be doing a lot less training, to fill in the gaps.
And one recently retired three-star general said the cuts will likely create an Army of "haves" and "have-nots" as deploying units receive top training and equipment, while everyone else does what they can with what they are given, which be could far less than they need.
Specifics are not yet known as detailed guidance is in the works. However, a Jan. 16 memorandum, "Risk Mitigation in the Face of Fiscal Uncertainty," provided command intent and direction.
"The Army faces significant budgetary uncertainty in the coming months and must take immediate steps to reduce expenditures," said the memorandum, signed by Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. "We expect commanders and supervisors at all levels to implement both the guidance contained in this memorandum and the detailed instructions to follow. The fiscal situation and outlook are serious. Our funding is in doubt as we support forward-deployed troops, those training to deploy and Wounded Warriors. The uncertain fiscal year 2013 funding caused by the combined effects of a possible yearlong Continuing Resolution and sequestration, along with the need to protect wartime operations, may result in particularly severe reductions to Operation and Maintenance spending."
While sequestration hangs like a sword of Damocles over the military budget, it is not the only problem, officials say. If sequestration is avoided through congressional action, the "solution" may be a continuing resolution, freezing 2013 spending at 2012 levels.
A continuing resolution essentially forces the Army to operate on the fiscal 2012 budget. While requested procurement dropped $1.7 billion from last year, the Army asked for a $6.1 billion increase in operations and maintenance funding. The resolution keeps that $36.6 billion request funded at $30.5 billion, the fiscal 2012 amount. And the Army is not allowed to shift anticipated savings from procurement cuts into the shorted O&M account — the funds that provide resources to recruit, equip and train forces, as well as sustaining families and covering day-to-day operating costs at 74 installations worldwide.
The cuts will fall squarely on these funds, and come on the heels of an unusually pointed letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that opens with a warning to Congress that "the readiness of our Armed Forces is at a tipping point."
The Jan. 14 letter is marked "For Official Use Only" and carries the signatures of all seven members. They contend the "unprecedented convergence of budget conditions and legislation" has put the Defense Department on the brink of creating a hollow force as Congress has required the military to keep more forces than it wants but isn't providing the money to properly train and equip that force.
"Troops on the front lines will receive the support they need, but the rest of the force will be compromised," the letter said. "Should this looming readiness crisis be left unaddressed, we will have to ground aircraft, return ships to port, and stop driving combat vehicles in training. Training will be reduced by almost half of what we were planning just three months ago. We are also now planning for the potential to furlough up to nearly 800,000 defense civilians who are essential to critical functions like maintenance, intelligence, logistics, contracting, and health care. We will also be unable to reset and restore the force's full-spectrum combat capability after over a decade of hard fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called fiscal uncertainty the "greatest threat" to national security during a Jan. 17 visit to U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza, Italy.
"We've got a perfect storm coming up in these next few months," Panetta said. "There's the challenge of increasing the debt ceiling in order to make sure that we pay our bills. Congress has yet to do that. We have this whole crazy mechanism called sequester, which has been delayed and now is supposed to take effect on March 1. Well, that means $1 trillion will be cut across the board, $500 billion out of defense, across the board, in a meat-ax approach that will hollow out our force if it happens.
"And then I've still got to worry about appropriations. We don't have FY13 appropriations enacted by the Congress. I'm working on a continuing resolution. So we don't know, frankly, what we're going to have for FY13 because the Congress hasn't made those decisions."
In the meantime, get ready for some big changes.
A week to define cuts
Don't worry. You most likely won't be cutting grass or painting buildings. There are a lot of policies that govern when and how soldiers can be used to perform any kind of duty on installations. Those policies will be clarified and sent to each post. But soldiers can be called on to perform military occupational specialty-related duties. For example, military police will likely assume some law enforcement and security responsibilities.
And routine maintenance will be stretched out. Contractors may skip a few weeks before cutting grass, as an example.
Training also will take a big hit. Units preparing for Operation Enduring Freedom and Korean forward-deployed units won't feel the cuts. And training for Homeland Defense and the Division Ready Brigade will remain unscathed. But everything else is on the chopping block. Individual commands have until Jan. 25 to identify where they will make these cuts.
Training and Doctrine Command has ordered subordinate commands to prepare impact statements.
"At this point, we are still reviewing budget target ceilings but gearing statements based on the criteria in the memo," said TRADOC spokesman Ray Harp. "We are working hard to gather the impact statements but have a long way to go before we can get to the specifics."
In the cross hairs could be any number of individual achievement programs, such as the Best Ranger, Best Sapper, Drill Sergeant of the Year competitions.
"We are very concerned about protecting those individual training programs that allow soldier progression and professional development," a senior budget official said. "That is certainly something we will be taking a very close look at."
"We are going to abide by what we need to do to meet the intent of our higher headquarters," said Army North spokesman Don Manuszewski. "We are going to continue to plan for our homeland defense mission and our civil support missions and exercises. What that looks like tomorrow, we don't know."
Army North participates in three big Northern Command-run exercises each year: Ardent Sentry, a civil support exercise to test how the military would respond during a natural disaster; Vibrant Response, which revolves around a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident; and Vigilant Shield, a homeland defense exercise.
Forces Command is working with the corps and divisions to determine the immediate, mid- and long-term effects of potential cuts, said spokesman Paul Boyce.
U.S. Army Pacific spokesman James Guzior said that command will "protect exercise and engagement participation as much as possible" by going through deliberate planning processes to look at the impact of limiting any engagement to which they are committed.
At the start of the fiscal year, the Army was planning for as many as 15,000 soldiers to participate in numerous training exercises and engagements across the Asia-Pacific, including in South Korea, Japan, India, New Zealand and Australia. That includes four new exercises — two with New Zealand and two with Australia — and large, multinational and joint events such as Ulchi Freedom Guardian in South Korea, Yama Sakura in Japan, Cobra Gold in Thailand, and Balikatan in the Philippines.
‘Haves and have-nots'
Army Materiel Command is preparing to cancel third- and fourth-quarter depot maintenance and reset orders of contracts that do not directly support deploying units or those entering the Army Force Generation-available pool.
The move will likely result in layoffs for temporary workers, a diminished pool of skilled workers and place the jobs of permanent workers in jeopardy, said retired Lt. Gen. James Pillsbury, the former deputy commanding general of the Army Materiel Command.
"Fast-forward to the fourth quarter. If the workload is not there, what do you do with the permanents?" Pillsbury said. "While it's understandable in this era of budget constraints, it's unfortunate — the possibility of losing some very dedicated and experienced workers."
Tanks, helicopters, weapons and communications gear that belong to units in the ARFORGEN cycle will receive typical maintenance. Equipment for units outside the queue will forgo depot maintenance.
"Once they're in the queue to deploy, it sounds like the spigot will be turned on," said Pillsbury, who retired in 2011 after 38 years and has seen several cycles of up and down military spending. "The units who are not in the queue will not have the budgetary advantages the units in the queue do have."
Though reluctant to say the Army is entering a period of "tiered readiness," Pillsbury said, "I hate to say it, but at the end of the day, you will have ‘haves' and ‘have nots.'
AMC is the lead materiel integrator for the Army, taking the priorities and criteria from Army headquarters, and making sure units have the equipment they need. Pillsbury said it will be in a position to stretch resources, "to oversee that our Army will not be hollow."
"Our Army has always come through, our nation has always come through, and it's painful but necessary," he said. "I know our leadership is taking a hard look and making sure any soldier going into harm's way is going to be the best-equipped soldier that can possibly be."
email@example.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Michelle Tan, firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Jim Tice, email@example.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Joe Gould and firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Marcus Weisgerber contributed to this report.