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Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012

Army leaders discuss budget with Congress

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WASHINGTON — “We have to avoid another Task Force Smith as we move forward” with these budget discussions, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told lawmakers.

Task Force Smith was a small Army force rushed to Korea in 1950 to keep South Korea from being overrun by forces from the North. The enemy outnumbered the Americans 10-to-1. This followed a post-World War II drawdown of U.S. forces and equipment, and was used as an anology by House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard McKeon, ranking member Adam Smith and other representatives to current proposed Army budget cuts.

The House Armed Services hearing Tuesday was a fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization budget request from the Department of the Army. The Army requested $184.6 billion in this year’s budget — about $18 billion less than what the Army received in fiscal 2012. Of that, about $134.6 billion is part of the “base” request, for the generating force. An additional $50 billion is to support overseas contingency operations, such as the war in Afghanistan.

To avoid a “hollow force,” similar to the post-World War II one as McKeon termed it, Odierno said the “Army would need the length of the ramp to be five years to enable us to keep our best, combat-tested NCOs and officers.” The ramp he spoke of would allow incremental cuts and time to assess their impacts.

Congressmen voiced concerns over a wide range of cuts, from veterans health care to weapons and systems programs. “The budget supports modernization, training, Soldiers and Families and enables the Army to remain the most lethal force in the world,” Army Secretary John McHugh told them. He added “this budget reflects hard decisions and a new defense strategy which emphasizes a smaller, more agile land force.”

He noted that Soldiers are engaged in 150 countries in humanitarian and combat roles and “at home helping with rescue and recovery efforts dealing with wildfires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes.” He said he expected those missions to continue.

Odierno added that the budget would support two major theater operations, if required, but “there would be risks if those operations were extended.” He said the Army, which has been planning this budget for months, built in “reversibility” so that personnel and equipment could be ramped up if the security situation required it.

McHugh, Odierno and nearly all representatives voiced concerns over the looming threat of sequestration, which McHugh said “would have devastating effects on the Army, its Soldiers and families, who would have to bear that cross. It is beyond risky. Unacceptable is an understatement.” Sequestration refers to the 2011 Budget Control Act, triggering billions of dollars in cuts to the military beginning next January — unless government action is taken to avert it.

Funding for some programs would continue or increase, such as suicide and sexual harassment prevention. Rep. Susan A. Davis and several other congress members voiced concerns over sexual harassment and questioned the effectiveness of the Army in dealing with it.

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