While budget cuts and sequestration are a challenge, Americans won’t accept them as an excuse for the Army failing to maintain a fighting force able to win the nation’s wars, said the Army’s vice chief of staff.
“They don’t want to hear that sequestration makes our job hard,” said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John Campbell. “If they ask us to do something, our nation expects us to be able to do it.”
Campbell spoke July 24, at the Pentagon, before a packed room of Army officers and a smattering of civilians as part of a briefing for staffers new to Headquarters Department of the Army, new to the Pentagon.
The officers and civilians in the audience will contribute to the teams responsible for developing policy and programs for the Army, and staffing those proposals and changes to ensure they are ready for review and possible approval by Army senior leaders.
“You can make a huge difference to the Army staff and how it moves,” Campbell told them. “You’re coming at a time when we are going to have to make some very important decisions for our Army. We are going to get smaller.”
Campbell told the new staffers that he, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno, and Secretary of the Army John McHugh are focused on “priorities and risk,” and asked staffers to keep that in mind as they go about their work.
“That’s what I need you to think about, as you present solutions as you work your staff actions, he said. “How does it fit in the secretary’s and the chief’s and the Army’s priority, and what is the risk if we do or don’t do that. Keep that in mind.”
As those officers go about their business in the Pentagon, some of the challenges facing them include sequestration, budget cuts, and civilian furloughs. None of those are excuses, Campbell said, for not completing the Army mission.
With the drawdown in Iraq complete, and the Afghanistan withdrawal coming soon, money meant for war fighting will disappear as well. That money paid for extra Soldiers and paid for equipment and materiel to fight the war. But, Campbell said, there is a shortfall in what is called the “overseas contingency operations,” or OCO, budget for this fiscal year.
Campbell told the new staffers the Army has an $8.3 billion shortfall in the OCO budget that it is working now to rectify. About $5 billion of that can be met by moving money from other accounts, but that requires “reprogramming” and approval by Congress, and the Army is waiting on that now.
Army civilian furloughs have helped to pay for some of that as well, but there is still a shortage in funds to pay for the war fight.
“We still have a bill this year of $1 billion to support the war fight that we don’t know how we’re going to pay for,” he said. “We have to get that paid before we address the furlough piece.”
Credit where due
Traditionally, those in the Army, both soldiers and civilians, are not interested in taking credit for the work they do.
“It’s not in our DNA, we don’t take credit for stuff,” he said. “We’ve all kind of grown up in a culture where we don’t take credit for stuff, just get it done.”
But the general said the Army does things to support other services, things that come out of Army budgets.
“Every single day, 30-40,000 soldiers at theater level are working with combatant commands providing sustainment, intelligence and signal capability, for instance, and other forms of support, costs taken out of the Army budget,” he said.
Campbell said that about 48 percent of the Army budget involves personnel, and that includes retirement for Soldiers. One concern for soldiers who may end up being retired early, is what will happen to their retirement if personnel budgets are cut.
The general said he believes that those in the Army now should be “grandfathered” on compensation for retirement, that their retirements will not be affected, including those that are asked to retire early. But in the future, he warned, there may be new rules for new soldiers about how retirement and other compensation is paid.