Our volunteer army has over 88,000 soldiers deployed, 56,000 in Afghanistan alone, thousands in Kuwait, Qatar, Kosovo, Sinai, Horn of Africa and 91,000 soldiers stationed in 150 countries. In the last twelve years, 1.5 million men and women have deployed overseas and half a million of these soldiers served on multiple tours, some 2-5 times. My friend’s daughter Bonnie served four tours. It is a strong, well-trained, remarkable, and honorable army. But no army and exceptional training in the world can protect and serve our country’s needs without proper funding.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote a letter on January 14, 2013 to Congress leaders expressing angst over the future readiness of our Armed Forces in light of the current budget conditions.
The Senate has not passed a budget in four years. Operating on continuing resolutions and the specter of more continuing resolutions for 2013 has already cost the Army a deficit of more than $6 billion in operation and maintenance accounts because money cannot be moved from one budget that is “overprescribed” to another budget that is “undersubscribed.”
The sequestration threat of 9 percent across the board cuts and the Department of Defense cuts will cause an additional shortfall of $6 billion in operations and maintenance for the FY 2013 for a total of $12 billion.
The funding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Overseas Contingency Operations) is also uncertain, potentially experiencing a $5-7 billion gap in financial needs for operations and maintenance. By March 1, when the debt ceiling is reached again, the Army will face a drastic total shortfall of $17-19 billion.
According to Gen. Odierno, prioritizing will guarantee that soldiers in Afghanistan or going to Afghanistan will be prepared, soldiers going to Korea will be properly equipped, but the readiness of the Division-Ready Brigade at Fort Bragg may suffer, as well as the training and maintenance across the Army.
Immediate effects in the next six months will include “extremely low levels of readiness,” cancellation of rotations, delay in equipment coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and maintenance on current fleets. Afghanistan is a land-locked country and moving equipment out is very expensive. Delays due to lack of funding in 2013 will definitely snowball into FY 2014 and FY 2015.
To mitigate the fiscal uncertainty, the Secretary of the Army and Gen. Odierno have prepared to:
- Freeze immediately all civilian hiring
- Terminate temporary employees
- Furlough the civilian workforce
- Curtail temporary duties and missions that are not critical
- Reduce thirty percent in installation operation costs
- Cancel and reset of orders for 2013 of units that have not deployed or were set to deploy
Decisions have not been made yet for contracts, studies, facilities management, community services, and research and development programs.
Gen. Odierno described the situation as serious in the “highly uncertain global security environment.” He surmised, “This is a time that I would say is not a time of peace and stability around the world.” There is great instability around the globe, in Algeria, Libya, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and the Middle East. “The Arab Spring has not sprung yet.” The Sinai is the biggest concern [we’ve had] in the last 30 years in terms of stability, particularly at a time of fiscal problems.
In the next five years, the Active Duty force will be reduced to 490,000 in an environment where the Budget Control Act has already cut $500 billion. Plans were made before sequestration for the removal of soldiers from 21 installations in the United States. Modernization efforts were reduced; this begs the question, how ready and strong are we? And what will happen to veterans’ services, medical care, military families, Wounded Warrior program, and transitioning back to civilian life program?
Can we afford to become too weak militarily? Can we really ensure that we don’t have to go to war, that we can prevent conflict when the world is a basket case of uncertainty and renewed aggression from many directions? Are we so naïve to believe that we can hit a reset button that will make everything peaceful, new, and friendly? We should always remember that “The strength of our Nation is our Army” and the ability to defend ourselves in the face of evil.