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Army says no-go on extended tours for Soldiers in Afghanistan

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (April 23, 2013) -- Last month, the Army's senior-most officer told lawmakers budget cuts could result in a decrease in training readiness for follow- on forces to Afghanistan that could result in extended tours for Soldiers already there. That is no longer the case.

During testimony on Capitol Hill April 23, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that "difficult decisions" with regard to the Army budget have eliminated the possibility that Soldiers who are in Afghanistan now might need to stay longer due to the training-related delays of follow-on forces.

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Chief among those difficult decisions are the 14 days of civilian furloughs the Army will implement later this year to help reduce costs. The savings there will help the Army train, Odierno said.

"That's allowing us to have enough money to invest in the training of the units that will be placed in Afghanistan, so we will not have to increase tour length," he said. "We've had to make some very difficult decisions here in fiscal year 2013 in order to ensure we do not extend those tour lengths. So they were tough, difficult decisions; but we believe tour lengths will remain the same and we will be able to train the forces that follow up those units."


A primary concern for legislators was the cut in forces the Army will experience between now and the end of fiscal year 2017, coupled with the force cuts that could come with additional sequestration. Right now, the plan for active-duty Army force cuts requires the Army to drop to just 490,000 Soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2017. In 2010, the Army was at 570,000 Soldiers. That's a cut of 80,000 Soldiers.

Additional sequestration could require the Army to cut even more Soldiers, possibly more than 100,000 troops. Though the cuts would come from all three components, Odierno said that about half of that would come from the active force. Were that to happen, the Army might drop to 440,000 Soldiers. That's a number Odierno said will affect what Americans can expect of the Army.

At 490,000 Soldiers, Odierno said the Army "would have enough capability to do one major contingency, maybe something a bit smaller. If we cut another 80-100,000 out, we now put in to question our ability to respond to large-scale major contingencies. And we certainly will not be able to do anything above that."


Coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army now has "less need to buy things," Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh told senators. That hurts the ability of America's industrial base to sustain itself.

Concern about the industrial base stems from the Army's need to have a place to turn, at a moment's notice, to procure war-fighting materiel.

McHugh told lawmakers the Army is working on two fronts to assess the effects of drawdown and sequestration on America's industrial base. Firstly, he said the Army is working with the Department of Defense to set up the metrics in which to feed "consumption data." Results from that, he said, will be able to "come up with those kinds of red flags" that can be used to identify problems with the industrial base.

The Army is also, on its own, working with a civilian analysis firm to better understand the threats to the industrial base. A report from that effort should be available in June, he said.

"The first step is knowing where problems lie; the second is trying to use diminishing resources to protect it," McHugh said.


Odierno said the Army, post-Vietnam, suffered from lack of training and a lack of discipline. Then, he said, the Army was a hollow force.

"For the next 15 years we focused on improving our readiness, improving our modernization, and improving our training programs," he said. "We revolutionized how the Army did our business. I was fortunate enough to grow up in that environment."

The steepness of cuts from sequestration, he said, "could lead us back to where we were in the late 1970s."

Right now, "the full impact of not having enough money to train has not fully hit yet. It's just beginning to hit." If it continues, he said, there will be training shortages and readiness issues. "We'll have some real challenges on our hands."

Training shortages and readiness issues, the general said, could lead to a lack of faith among Soldiers -- causing Soldiers who now have great combat experience to want to leave the Army.

"We still have time to ensure we can keep the best in our Army," he said. Doing that means predictable budgets that allow the Army to remain the best, and to prove to Soldiers the Army is "the right size, and ready and trained to deploy."


As part of a mandated drawdown of forces -- the one expected to take the Army to 490,000 Soldiers, the Army must also eliminate some of its force structure. That means the service will eliminate eight brigade combat teams. Already, two brigade combat teams, known as BCTs, from Europe have been eliminated. Six more will be eliminated in the future, McHugh told lawmakers.

On a path to deciding which BCTs will be eliminated, the Army has already completed assessments at 21 installations to measure the impact.

Now the Army will hold public meetings near the installations to hear what civilians have to say.

We're in "the process of holding public listening sessions in over 30 locations throughout the Army to receive input from the communities that surround places like Fort Carson (Colo.) and others, to make sure we have the fullest record possible to make those very important decisions."

The Army will also develop a list of criteria it will use to make determinations about what can be cut. That list, McHugh said, should be available in June.

Odierno told lawmakers that while some BCTs might be eliminated, other BCTs could be increased in size.

It's not just "flags or the numbers of units," Odierno said. "But instead, numbers of people."

Reorganizations of BCTs, he said, could mean "we might make them larger," Odierno said. "So we might eliminate flags, but it wouldn't be a total loss of BCT, because we would add a third maneuver battalion to the BCT. Don't focus on the flags, focus on the numbers."

Both Odierno and McHugh told lawmakers they supported the one percent pay raise for Soldiers, as well as an increase in premiums for Tricare. McHugh and Odierno both agreed the cost of Tricare has gone up, with McHugh saying while everybody wants to maintain the "status quo," the cost of providing Tricare has "skyrocketed over the last 10 years."

Odierno pointed out that while the benefits associated with Tricare have increased, the cost to beneficiaries has not kept up.

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