By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Oct. 06, 2011) -- Budget challenges loom in the Army's future. In fact, just about any portion of the federal budget could be cut to help the United States reduce its yearly deficit.
In fiscal year 2011, the government spent an estimated $1.6 trillion more than it collected in revenue. In fiscal year 2012, it's estimated the government will spend about $1.1 trillion more than it takes in.
The Department of Defense, and all services, including the Army, are potential targets for deficit reduction.
"We understand that our nation's in a critical time and economic capacity is the basis of strength of a nation," said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno. "We understand the military has to be part of this, and that we have to be part of the solution as we move forward. And we are prepared to do that. But we must do it in a reasonable smart and well thought out way."
Odierno, the 38th chief of staff of the Army, spoke Oct. 6 before a House Army Caucus breakfast attended by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, as well as Army general officers and senior Army civilians. He told lawmakers that budget reductions must be made in both DOD and the Army, but said those cuts must be done in a way that allows the Army to continue to be an elite fighting force.
He said today the Army is the best in the word, and he hopes that after budget cuts, the Army will continue to be the best. "It's up to us to work together."
The general said he fears poorly planned budget cuts could lead to the return of the "hollow force" he experienced at the start of his military service. He entered the Army in June 1976, less than three years after the last U.S. military personnel exited Vietnam.
"We got to experience what the Army was like in the '70s and it was in shambles," Odierno said. "There was lack of discipline. There was lack of a way forward."
The challenge in the post-Vietnam era was to prepare the Army for whatever missions lay ahead at a time when defense budgets had been cut to coincide with the end of American involvement in that conflict.
"It took us 15 years to rise over that," Odierno said. "In my opinion, we can't afford 15 years today. We have too many things facing us around the world. This is not a time of peace around the world, it is a time of uncertainty. And uncertainty is a problem."
The general warned against placing faith in the idea that when the current wars end, ground forces will never be needed again and that budget cuts should reflect that. The idea presented itself before, he said, and was quickly proven wrong.
Odierno said that when the Berlin wall came down in 1989, he was witness to conversations that predicted cessation of future conflict.
"We'll never fight another war. We'll never have to deploy our ground forces ever again. We have solved the problems, we will have peace for as far as we can see," he recounted.
But after the fall of the wall in November 1989, there was Operation Just Cause in Panama, where the U.S. overthrew Gen. Manuel Noriega. In 1991, the U.S. entered Operation Desert Storm, to liberate Kuwait from Iraq. There was also Operation Provide Promise in 1992 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Operation Allied Force, which was part of the Kosovo Conflict in 1999, the entrance into Afghanistan in 2001, and the beginning of operations in Iraq in 2003.
"We can sit here and say we are going to have peace and we'll never need our military anymore -- but I think we're putting our heads in the sand," he said.
Odierno said as the new chief of staff, he's focused on continuing to prepare Soldiers -- to provide trained and ready forces to send into combat. Also, he said, the Army must look to balance capabilities to meet future threats.
He said an Army must be developed that is "smaller, more agile, deployable and capable of meeting whatever our nation's needs are."
Agility, adaptability and deployability are key, he added. He also stressed that the Army provides depth.
"What many people don't realize is that the Army provides depth, it provides combat support, combat service support to all the other services," he said. "It is the basis for all our special operations forces."
Odierno said between 35-40,000 of the Army's end strength is special operations forces, and pointed out that those Soldiers don't just come in off the street.
"They have had experience, they have to develop critical skills as we get them ready to do these missions," he said, adding that they are a product not of recruiting, but of an all-volunteer force. Those are Soldiers, he said that have willingly joined the service, and that take pride in serving.
"These are the kinds of people you want in your Army, or your Navy, or your Air Force or Marines -- these are the type of people we need in order to ensure we can deter [the enemy] or defend our nation as we move forward," Odierno said. "We have to preserve the all-volunteer force."