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Odierno: Defense budget cuts could cost lives

Feb. 20, 2013 - 07:58AM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 20, 2013 - 07:58AM  |  
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno testifies at a hearing on the effects of sequestration Feb. 12 in Washington, D.C.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno testifies at a hearing on the effects of sequestration Feb. 12 in Washington, D.C. (Colin Kelly / Army Times)
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The Army has entered the age of uncertainty — about who your enemy might be, where you might fight and what tactics would be used.

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The Army has entered the age of uncertainty — about who your enemy might be, where you might fight and what tactics would be used.

Now the Army is uncertain about whether it will be trained and equipped to fight future conflicts at all.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno had planned on spending his time implementing a postwar strategy that included a shift in focus from the war in Afghanistan to other parts of the world.

That was to be accomplished through the regional alignment of units, assigning them to a variety of geographic regions to expose soldiers to languages and cultures in areas where they may end up in conflict. Soldiers would be trained to operate in those areas through home base training and participation in joint exercises around the globe.

But these days, Odierno and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are maneuvering through the halls of Congress in an effort to defend the military from crippling budget cuts. And the Army's top officer isn't pulling punches.

"I began my career in a hollow Army. I am determined not to end my career in a hollow Army," Odierno told lawmakers.

In testimony before the House and Senate armed services committees, he described the "unprecedented" and "grave consequences" that await an Army in transition.

Odierno told lawmakers that coming cuts will force the Army to curtail training for 80 percent of ground forces.

"This will impact our units' basic war-fighting skills, induce shortfalls across critical specialties, including aviation, intelligence, engineering and even our ability to recruit new soldiers into the Army," he said.

"And what does that mean? That means there'll be mistakes made," Odierno said. "And what does that mean? That means we'll have accidents, or that means we'll be more likely to be shot down by enemy fire. And ultimately, that results in not only in the death of our pilots but those who are riding with them."

Pending cuts also are shaking the industrial base.

All but five of the Army's 26 Army major acquisition programs — to include the top 10 programs — will incur delays of 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.

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.

"These cuts will be felt across the entire country," Odierno told lawmakers. "Sequestration is not in the best interests of our national security. It will place an unreasonable burden on the shoulders of our soldiers and civilians. We will not be able to execute the Department of Defense strategic guidance as we developed last year.

"I understand the seriousness of our country's fiscal situation," he added. "We have and will continue to do our part. But the significance of these budget reductions will directly impact our ability to sustain readiness today and into the future.

"We simply cannot take the readiness of our force for granted," Odierno said. "If we do not have the resources to train and equip the force, our soldiers, our young men and women, are the ones who will pay the price, potentially with their lives."

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