The Army's top officer on Thursday warned that looming budget cuts and the ongoing fiscal uncertainty are hurting the force.
The Army is already cutting 80,000 active-duty soldiers to reach an end strength of 490,000 by Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year. It is slated to drop down to 450,000 over the next few years, but if sequestration returns Oct. 1, the Army could be forced to cut its end strength to 420,000.
"I believe that where we are now is about as low as we can go," Odierno said. "If we continue to go lower, we're going to have to say we cannot do all the things we're doing today."
The uncertainty over end strength is one issue Odierno said he thought would have been settled by the time he retires in the fall.
"It's put a lot of turbulence in the Army, and it's given a lot of angst to our soldiers," he said. "That's still very much up in the air based on what happens with Congress and the president as they continue to wrestle over what the budget should be. That was a major thing I wish I could've had done so the new chief could focus on continuing to move the Army forward, but he's still going to have to deal with this issue for at least two or three more years."
The Army "cannot be any busier" with missions in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe, Africa and the Pacific. More than 143,000 soldiers are currently deployed or forward-stationed around the world, Odierno said.
At the same time, the Army also is working to rebuild its readiness and modernize its equipment.
"If we don't get the dollars and we continue down this road of sequestration, it's going to put us in a readiness hole for five years," Odierno said. "It's going to put us in a modernization hole for 10 years, and our ability to continue to meet our current missions will be challenged."
The Army has already taken a "huge cut," and with the instability around the world, "this is not the right time" to be making even deeper cuts, he said.
"We've taken a huge cut. I think we've done our part," Odierno said. "We've taken enough out of defense. Let's stop and move forward. I worry about that more than anything."
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.