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Budget cuts will mean gaps in gear, training

Army official outlines reductions in the works

Feb. 12, 2013 - 07:24AM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 12, 2013 - 07:24AM  |  
Army Vessel Churubusco moves through waves on the Persian Gulf in January during a training mission involving armor, infantry, transportation and support soldiers. Proposed budget cuts may mean the Army must curtail training and exercises.
Army Vessel Churubusco moves through waves on the Persian Gulf in January during a training mission involving armor, infantry, transportation and support soldiers. Proposed budget cuts may mean the Army must curtail training and exercises. (Army)
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GOING WITHOUT

These divisions will be left without gear they need as severe budget cuts take effect, according to a senior Army official:
3rd Infantry Division
4th Infantry Division
10th Mountain Division
25th Infantry Division
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)
82nd Airborne Division

A cash-strapped Congress looking to reduce the deficit has dealt the Army a "devastating" $18 billion shortfall that is stripping the service of the equipment and training it needs to carry out its mission.

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A cash-strapped Congress looking to reduce the deficit has dealt the Army a "devastating" $18 billion shortfall that is stripping the service of the equipment and training it needs to carry out its mission.

A senior Army official with in-depth knowledge of the Army budget provided Army Times with an exclusive look at cuts coming in the next six months. These are no longer dire predictions of what could be. These cuts are in the works. Unless Congress comes through, by October:

• Four out of five brigade combat teams will be unable and unprepared to meet the needs of combatant commanders. Combat Training Center rotations and joint exercises will be canceled.

• Only a handful of aircrews will have sufficient flight hours for proficiency and qualifications. Flight school will see a reduction of 500 students. It will take more than two years to overcome the backlog.

• Six divisions — the 3rd Infantry Division, 4th ID, 10th Mountain, 25th ID, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and 82nd Airborne Division — will not have the gear they need. Roughly 1,000 tactical wheeled vehicles, 14,000 communication devices and 17,000 weapons will sit untouched at depots.

• Only units headed to Afghanistan, Korea or assigned to the Global Response Force Brigade Combat Team will be fully equipped.

• Some soldiers will report directly to units from boot camp without Advanced Individual Training. As many as 4,000 military intelligence soldiers will fall into this category.

• Fifteen field artillery training courses will be canceled, though the number of soldiers will not diminish.

• Professional Military Education will decrease for all ranks, which could create a culture of "haves and have-nots" that affects promotions and assignments for years to come.

• Installation services will be cut back. Mess halls will merge. Funding for soldier and family programs such as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program, Soldier Family Assistant Centers and the Army Substance Abuse Program will be reduced.

"These are very difficult and challenging times," the senior Army official said. "This is a very hard exercise for us to go through as an Army. We really are putting our best effort forward to make sure we are coordinated and synchronized to maintain our readiness posture and keep looking forward as much as we can within our budget constraints."

Service leaders are not going down without a fight.

The service chiefs arranged meetings with the House and Senate armed service committees this month to make their case.

"Today, the greatest threat to our national security is fiscal uncertainty," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said. "The situation is serious. If we do not have a legislative solution that provides our leaders with the time and the flexibility to shape our forces for the future, we will create a hollow force."

One lawmaker with whom Army Times spoke said the argument, though valid, is falling on deaf ears. While he adamantly opposes defense cuts, a slight majority in Congress sees the Defense Department as a place to make big cuts to get big savings.

But uniformed soldiers are not alone in this fight. Although some lawmakers are unmoved by the impassioned pleas of defense leaders, few will turn a deaf ear to the constituents who put them in office.

The pending cuts will affect a lot of people in a lot of states. All but five of the Army's 26 Army major acquisition programs face major delays — some up to 18 months. That will adversely affect more than 300 contractors and 1,000 suppliers in more than 40 states, according to Army data.

Thousands of civilians will lose their jobs. The remaining 251,000 civilian employees will face long furloughs, meaning they will have four weeks or more without pay.

Purchases and modernization will be slowed, if not stopped. This will hurt 3,000 companies, one-third of which are at high or medium risk of bankruptcy.

It may be the impact on the civilian workforce — not the readiness of strategic forces — that turns the tide.

Three funding cuts

The convergence of three events led to the $18 billion shortfall.

The first is Congress' continuing resolution. This forces the Army to operate on the fiscal 2012 budget, which cuts $6.1 billion from operations and maintenance funding. The resolution is scheduled to end March 27. Lawmakers with whom Army Times spoke said they expect the resolution to be extended through the second half of the fiscal year, which means the $6.1 billion will never be recovered.

The second is sequestration. If not averted, this will cut another $5.3 billion from O&M funds. Lastly, the Army must cover up to $7 billion in emerging Overseas Contingency Operations.

Even if Congress covers one cost, the other two remain. Although it would produce some relief, the service would still be left to make painful cuts.

When it comes to cutting money, the Army will not touch combat operations, preparedness for those scheduled to deploy, and critical soldier and family programs, the senior Army official said. These represent 43 percent of the annual O&M budget.

Within the remaining 57 percent resides current and future readiness.

On March 1, the Army will have $20 billion in that account. So cutting $18 billion is going to hurt.

And the timing couldn't be worse. The service was using this as a period of transition from counterinsurgency to full-spectrum operations.

But one senior leader is taking steps to ensure cuts to training and equipment will not strip the Army of its greatest asset.

Opportunity, not obstacle

Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler is making the best of a bad situation.

He chooses to view the forthcoming cuts not as an obstacle but as an opportunity for battalions to empower junior leaders.

Soldiers won't be challenged by battalion-size training events. But that doesn't mean they need to sit around empty bays twiddling their thumbs. Chandler expects enlisted leaders to take this time to teach critical individual skills and hone the profession of arms.

One example he offered is the Expert Infantryman Badge competition. This series of tasks is done in a field environment and led by the squad leader. Soldiers train hard to win this coveted honor.

"This would be a great opportunity if you are in a unit that is not deploying to spend more time in training your soldiers, not only to compete for and hopefully win the expert infantry badge, but also to be experts in the tasks related to that," Chandler said. "This will make them a better squad."

And that approach can and should be applied across the board, Chandler said.

"If you focus on fundamental skills and get a lot of repetitions in doing them you are going to be better," he said. "If you have strong squads, sections and crews, that is going to build confidence not only in that formation, but it is also going to make stronger platoons, companies and so on. We believe that the squad is a building block for all organizations as it is in the Army.

"By doing [this kind of training], we can maintain a level of readiness. Will we have the same level of readiness as if we had gone through a complete training cycle and gone to a combat center rotation? No, probably not. But we are going to have a foundation that is extremely strong so that once we get through the budget issues, we can then build back to that level of readiness that we want."

In the meantime, Chandler's orders are simple and straightforward: Salute smartly, and be the soldier America expects and deserves.

"When the people who are elected to govern the country make a decision, it is then our job to do the best that we possibly can with what it is that we are given," he said. "That is our job. It is not to complain about it. It is not to question or second guess.

"At the end of the day, those people have to make decisions for the best interests of the country. Sometimes that is not necessarily the best deal or answer for the Army. We have to accept that as professionals. That is part of that oath. … When we are given a mission, we will rise to the challenge, and we are going to do great things. I have complete confidence in the men and women out there."

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