CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, COLO. — Mandatory budget cuts have begun to hurt military readiness, but the armed forces will continue to do their job, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.
Hagel didn’t elaborate on damage done during a visit to the U.S. Air Force bunker at Cheyenne Mountain outside Colorado Springs.
“Sequestration and the uncertainty of sequestration is impacting and will continue to impact our people, our planning and our purpose,” Hagel said.
The military also is scaling back under a long-term strategic plan reflecting the wind-down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Army announced Tuesday it would deactivate 12 combat brigade teams in the U.S. and Europe. One of those brigades is stationed at Fort Carson, a 215-square-mile infantry post near Cheyenne Mountain.
Hagel endorsed the cuts Friday.
“I think it’s the smart thing to do,” he said during a question-and-answer session with about 150 soldiers under a hot sun at a Fort Carson parade ground.
Fort Carson is losing the 3,800-member 3rd Brigade Combat Team, part of the 4th Infantry Division. The Army said about 3,000 of those soldiers will join three remaining combat brigades at Fort Carson and that the post will actually gain about 1,800 soldiers as the Army reorganizes.
The total number of troops at Fort Carson will be lower than it would have been if the 3rd Brigade had survived.
Hagel also told the soldiers that sexual assaults in the military are a “scourge” and must stop.
“We’re going to stop it. We’re going to fix it,” he said. But he offered no specifics.
Asked about reports in The Colorado Springs Gazette that the Army is giving more less-than-honorable discharges to soldiers with post-traumatic stress and other health issues, Hagel acknowledged that the military has “some responsibility here.” He said the Pentagon is working with the Veterans Affairs Department to address PTSD and other problems.
Hagel’s trip to Colorado included visits to the headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
He got a private tour of the underground complex at Cheyenne Mountain, which was excavated during the Cold War as a missile-proof control room for NORAD. The primary control room is now above ground a few miles away at Peterson, and Cheyenne Mountain is used as a backup.
NORAD is a joint U.S.-Canada command responsible for defending the skies over both nations and monitoring sea approaches. Northern Command defends the U.S. mainland and supports civil authorities in emergencies.