A smaller Army still needs to be ready, and sequester issues on top of previous budget cuts are impacting readiness accounts, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.
The general told reporters at the Defense Writers Group, May 7, that the Army “has to be ready to do many missions, at many speeds, in many different environments.”
The Army is scheduled to cut a total of 80,000 Soldiers from its ranks, he said, and this smaller force still needs to be ready.
“We have to be able to build [-up] quicker, in scalable packages, for unknown contingencies,” Odierno said.
Readiness problems are growing, he said, with fiscal year 2013 shortfalls causing problems in the Army.
“We were short funding Afghanistan, and we had sequester on top of that,” the general said.
This left the Army with a $13 billion shortfall, and that affects readiness, he said. Through the rest of fiscal year 2013, about 80 percent of the Army will train at very low levels at home stations – squad or platoon levels.
“We’ve cancelled six National Training Center rotations for the rest of the year, we’ve reduced flying hours, we’ve had to degrade services at installations – right now, we’re going to furlough civilians for 14 days,” Odierno said. “That’s how we’re going to pay the bills in [fiscal year] 2013.”
This means the Army will begin fiscal year 2014 in a readiness hole, the general said.
Without a solution, “I see us having a three- or four-year issue with readiness,” he said. “Our ability to respond will be degraded and I worry about the unknown contingency.”
The Army, he said, will continue to train forces for known contingencies like Afghanistan.
“But for unknown contingencies our risk goes way up,” Odierno said. “The environment we are going to have to operate in will be a mix of high-end, combined-arms maneuvers, but also some aspect of counterinsurgency and some aspect of stability operations.”
The general said Army units also must be ready to counter asymmetric operations.
“We have to be able to operate in a very complicated environment,” he said.
And, the Army needs to train to provide the combined arms capability that is the Army’s specialty in the joint force, Odierno said.
Army officials also are concerned that the readiness shortfall could translate into retention problems in the future, he said.
“We are not seeing any degradation in retention or in our ability to recruit,” the general said. “Last year, for the first time, not everybody who wanted to was able to reenlist. Our attrition rates are at historic lows.”
Yet, Odierno said, the retention environment can change quickly.
Readiness plays a part in this also, he said.
“If we don’t have the money to train and do what we need to do, it will have an impact [on retention],” he said.
Odierno entered the Army in 1976, when the three-year-old all-volunteer military was going through some teething pains.
“I came into a hollow Army. I don’t want to leave a hollow Army,” he said. “When I first came in we had significant discipline problems. We didn’t have the money to train. We didn’t sustain standards [and] we were recovering from the Vietnam War.
“What I worry about is if we continue to have these budget issues, we’re heading down the same road,” he added.
Odierno said he was fortunate as a young officer to “grow up” with leaders doing everything they could to correct the situation.
This is serious business with real consequences, he said.
“I have to make sure that we can meet the needs of this country and when they need them, they are ready,” Odierno said. “When the Army gets involved and when you are not ready, the cost is lives.”
Odierno pointed to the casualty lists from the 1st Cavalry Division and Task Force Smith in the early days of the Korean War as examples of the cost of not being militarily prepared.
“We can’t do that again,” he said. “It would not be acceptable to the American people. They spend a lot of money on defense. They expect us to be ready and they expect us to respond when needed.”