Defense Department officials and the Army undersecretary briefed congressional staff members on Thursday that a significant portion of the proposed cuts to Army special operations forces would target vacant billets, not current soldiers, sources told Army Times.
Despite lawmakers and media reports sounding alarm over the proposed reductions in recent months, Army officials — including Army Secretary Christine Wormuth — have largely declined to discuss their proposals in detail before legislative briefings were complete. According to an Oct. 5 Wall Street Journal report, around 3,000 Army special operations roles are on the chopping block. A cut of that magnitude would eliminate approximately 10% of all Army special operations billets.
Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo and other Army officials went to Capitol Hill Thursday and briefed professional staff members from the House and Senate’s respective armed services committees “on Army structure changes, to include [special operations forces],” according to a congressional staffer, who spoke on condition their name not be used in order to discuss the private briefing.
A defense official, to whom Army Times also granted anonymity, confirmed the briefings occurred. That official added that the assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict was also represented in the closed-door events.
Asked about Thursday’s briefings, a second defense official told Army Times that a “significant portion” of the requested cuts would fall on vacant positions — the Army’s special operations community has not been immune to the recruiting crisis affecting the service.
Reached by email regarding the special operations cuts, a spokesperson for Wormuth referred Army Times to recent public statements made by the secretary.
Wormuth has repeatedly stated that the Army will request to cut what she terms to be “over structure.” That means eliminating or restructuring units that struggle to maintain adequate manning and are becoming “hollow.” In an Oct. 3 press conference, she acknowledged that “part of what we’re doing is driven by the recruiting challenges we’ve had for the last few years.”
The secretary also exclusively told Army Times in June that the service was weighing reductions to “enablers” who support operators after the U.S. has significantly reduced the Global War on Terror operations that caused the Army special operations community to double in size.
Beyond vacant positions and excess enablers, Army Times could not confirm what other areas of Army SOF, if any, will lose troops.
The proposed force structure reductions first came to light in May, when members of the Senate Armed Services Committee asked Army officials about them during a subcommittee hearing. Those lawmakers further voiced their objections last month, with a Senate staffer telling Army Times that senators wanted the Pentagon to ”'show us their math’ in both a written report and briefings.”
According to a report from Defense One, special operations officials also disagreed with the cuts, which led to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s mediation in the months preceding Thursday’s briefing. Ultimately, Congress will decide whether to accept the Defense Department and Army’s proposed force reductions.
Military Times editor-at-large Todd South contributed to this report.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.