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Current funding makes hollow force 'inevitable,' 3-star says

Oct. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Afghanistan Sunset
A group of soldiers are silhouetted against the evening sky on Jan. 15, 2011, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Army's top supply officer is concerned that a hollow Army is 'inevitable' if reduced discretionary funding caps are not reversed. (DoD)
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The Army’s top supply officer is concerned that a hollow Army is “inevitable” if reduced discretionary funding caps are not reversed.

And the government shutdown isn’t helping matters.

“[Readiness] is eroding. And the longer this goes, the more it will erode,” Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, deputy chief of staff for logistics, told House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness last Wednesday.

Mason made the point personal as he told lawmakers how he brought his 236-member civilian workforce in and told them he had to send them all home without pay — and he didn’t know when he would be able to bring them back.

“I feel like I’ve abandoned my workforce, and that’s not a good place to be,” he said.

Lt. Gen. William Faulkner, Mason’s Marine counterpart, was more pointed.

“Words like ‘disruptive’ and ‘unfortunate’ don’t even begin to address the impact of this shutdown on our Marine civilians,” he said. “And I think more descriptive words such as ‘disrespectful’ are more appropriate.”

Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, challenged Congress to act.

“It is indeed unfortunate that Congress has placed the Department of Defense in the position that you are in today,” she said. “We in Congress are the problem, sorry to say. And I ask that all of my colleagues put aside all of the political positioning and understand what is at stake here. The time for action is now.”

The Army plans to retrograde approximately $17 billion worth of Army equipment currently in Afghanistan. It has $24 billion worth of equipment there. Combined with depot work and new production, this will improve equipment-on-hand readiness to 92 percent. It nowstands at 88 percent.

Operational readiness rates have held at about 90 percent for ground equipment and about 75 percent in aviation in theater, though rates are “much lower than that” back home due to sequestration, Mason said. Those cuts also have cost 2,000 civilian jobs. Another 2,000 were lost due to workload reduction.

“The people are the key thing, and it’s difficult to grow those people and bring them back,” Mason said. “We are eating our seed corn. We’re eating our future.”

Mason said reset funding must continue for three years after the last piece of equipment returns from Afghanistan. And if overseas contingency operations funding does not continue well into fiscal 2017, the Army will have to take that money from its base budget or scrap reset. To take money from the base budget would require further cuts to end strength, training and modernization.

“If we don’t receive OCO, we’ll begin to eat modernization even more than it is now,” he said. “We are risking the future. We are risking the now. And we’re not taking care of our people. So it’s a trifecta of bad situation if we don’t receive the OCO dollars.”

The Army planned $4 billion worth of reset in fiscal 2013, but funding was cut by about $1.7 billion. The cut meant repairs that would bring 800 vehicles, 2,000 weapons, 10,000 pieces of communication gear and 32 helicopters to near zero hours/zero miles were pushed into fiscal 2014 — and no money is available now as Congress stands in a stalemate.

The three-star said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the current retrograde plan to reduce the equipment in Afghanistan. He is cautious because any changes to the supply line could cause “challenges.”

He described the Northern Distribution Network as a capillary and the Pakistan ground route as an artery. The NDN is primarily used to bring supplies in. It is four times longer than the Pakistan ground route which means more money, more time and more countries to deal with.

About half of gear leaves Afghanistan on the Pakistan ground route. The rest flies out, and that is expensive. It will cost upward of $3 billion to bring that $17 billion worth of gear home. Another $7 billion will be divested because the cost of transporting those items is more than their value. That gear will stay there or be sold to another country.■

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