It’s possible the Army could be cut to 400,000 if the sequestration option spelled out in the Budget Control Act of 2011 goes into effect, the Army’s chief of staff said May 17.
The Army is already planning on cutting 80,000 active-duty soldiers from the force over the next five years, which will bring the active end strength down to 490,000 Soldiers. Were sequestration to kick in, Army leaders expect the cuts it brings could mean the loss of an additional 100,000 soldiers. Those soldiers would come from both the active and Reserve components.
“If we have sequestration, it will affect both the active and reserve component,” said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno. “It depends on what balance we pick. But what I talk about a lot is: 70,000 out of the active, 30,000 out of the reserve; 80,000 out of the active, 20,000 out of the reserve. Some number around there is what we would expect.”
With that, he said, he expects the active component of the Army could be reduced to anywhere between 400,000 to 425,000 soldiers. The National Guard might lose an additional 20,000 soldiers, and the Army Reserve might lose an additional 10,000.
“It would be quite significant,” the general said, speaking May 17 on Capitol Hill, before an audience at a Senate Caucus breakfast.
“If we have sequestration, the problem we have is with this balance between end strength, readiness and modernization,” he said. “I think it’s going to be really hard for us to create this right balance we need, and secondly I think it’s going to impact not only end strength, (but) it’ll impact our ability to train and be ready. And it will significantly impact our modernization programs. It’s a template for hollowing out the force.”
As part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, lawmakers who were part of a “super committee” last year were tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in savings, or risk across-the-board reductions in funding. Because a resolution was not reached, as much as half that amount could now automatically be cut from the Department of Defense through sequestration.
“The thing about sequestration that is also bothersome, even though the amount of cuts are in my mind unreasonable, it’s the fact that we don’t have any choice on where those cuts are directed,” Odierno said. “It’s a percentage cut out of every line item that we have. And so it would completely have significant impact on our modernization programs.”
The Army’s chief of staff also told lawmakers that “reset” is going well. Reset is the process the Army uses for the recovery of personnel, units and equipment from the war that was fought in Iraq, and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.
Odierno said equipment that has come back to the United States and has been reset is now being provided to soldiers back home for training purposes. The availability of that equipment for soldier training helps those soldiers and their units increase their readiness level for the next conflicts.
“We now have some MRAPS (mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles) we can train on,” Odierno said. “One of the real issues was we weren’t having a lot of our counter-improvised explosive device equipment, we didn’t have enough, to do training on. So the first time they’d see it was when they got into theater.”
But Odierno told lawmakers that there is an “incredible amount” of equipment still in Afghanistan. And until that equipment is back in the United States and made available to soldiers for training purposes, those Soldiers and their units will face readiness issues.
“When you don’t have the equipment, it’s more difficult to train, so it is going to take several years to do this,” he said.
The general told lawmakers that the Army is going to retool the Army force generation process, known as ARFORGEN, it used to provide fighting forces to Iraq and Afghanistan to keep forces back in the United States at the appropriate level of readiness for potential future conflicts.
“We are going to modify (ARFORGEN) in such a way that will enable us to make sure that we have units at (a) significant high level of readiness, getting ready to have a high level,” he said.
The highest level of readiness, C-1, is for units that are fully equipped and trained to go to a conflict, and who know where they are going and are prepared for deployment to that particular area. The lowest level of readiness, C-5, is for units that are completely unprepared for deployment.
“Some units will be at a C-3 level of readiness,” Odierno said. “We are going to direct that to ensure we have ready forces, even as we go through this transition period. Our goal is to get as many into that ‘ready category’ as possible.”
Still, Odierno said there will be some units at a very low level of readiness until equipment comes back from Afghanistan.
Suicides and sexual assaults
Also on the mind of the Army’s senior officer is dealing with suicides in the force, and with sexual assault and sexual harassment.
“We are all in on sexual harassment and sexual assault,” Odierno said. “We have a lot of work to do. It is a culture. We have to change the culture in our Army. We get people from all over our country. And we are going to bring them into our Army and talk to them about the Army culture, the Army culture of values and ethics, the Army culture of Soldiers taking care of soldiers we will not allow this type of behavior to permeate our profession.”
The number of suicides in the army is up this year, Odierno said, and will perhaps exceed the number of suicides that occurred in any other year. The source of the suicide problem, Odierno told lawmakers, is difficult for the Army to pin down.
“I can’t tell you why that is happening and that is what’s vexing to me,” he said. “There are no trends.”
The solution, to the suicide problem, he said, might be clearer.
“I do know it’s about intervention, it’s about soldiers knowing soldiers, it’s about leaders understanding Soldier issues,” he said. “We are going to continue to work this problem as hard as we can.”