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The defense budget squeeze could mean longer deployments overseas and longer tours at sea, as military officials try to man more missions with fewer people, defense leaders warned Wednesday.
“We don’t see the demand changing,” said Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, deputy chief of staff for the Army. “So if the demand stays as high as it is, with a smaller force, our ability to cycle those forces and give that break time in between … is going to become more challenging.”
The comments from service leaders came during a Senate Armed Services Committee personnel hearing Wednesday. Even with the war in Afghanistan winding down, they said, the number of overseas missions continues to strain the force. Both planned and unplanned manpower cuts could turn that stress into a breaking point.
Pentagon officials have previously outlined plans in coming years to draw down the Army’s end strength to around 450,000, and the Marine Corps to 182,000.
If automatic budget cuts known as sequestration aren’t fully repealed by Congress in the next 20 months, planners have warned, those manning levels will drop even further.
“If you take us to sequestration, there will be risk,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead, the Marine Corps deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs. “If we have a major contingency operation, there will be no dwell time. We’re all going to war, and we’ll come home when it’s done.”
Air Force and Navy officials echoed those concerns, noting that even if federal budget sequestration is averted, they see longer tours away from home in the near future.
Chief of Naval Personnel Vice. Adm. William Moran said the unpredictability of deployments takes a toll on sailors and their families, and officials are working to ease that.
“One way you make deployments more predictable is to make them slightly longer, but stick to that schedule,” he said. “But if you’re going to sign them up for eight-month deployments, you better stick to eight months.”
Lawmakers on the committee said they are concerned with the end-strength cuts and added pressure on remaining personnel, as well as a host of other pay trims included in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has repeatedly objected to most of the benefit cuts until the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission offers its recommendation on overhauling the system in early 2015.
On Wednesday, she repeated that it will be difficult for her to support those provisions. The committee is expected to mark up its version of the budget later this spring.