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SecArmy McHugh: Budget cuts affecting readiness

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Oct. 21, 2013) -- Budget cuts, sequestration and continuing resolutions have exacted "great cost" on Army readiness, said the Army's secretary.

During the opening of the 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh said the Army has worked hard to make ends meet in the face of requirements to reduce the budget, sequestration, lack of timely appropriations bills, furloughs and a recent government shutdown.

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But despite those efforts, he said, the Army has suffered in real ways, in terms of preparedness.

"We're making every possible adjustment in these random across-the-board reductions ... adjustments that have helped us better prioritize our most pressing needs," McHugh said. "But I want to be very frank here. For all of our efforts, for all of the hard work that everybody has put forward, the current and the ongoing fiscal realities have extracted a great cost, not just in financial terms, but costs in real-world programs and real-world preparedness and real-world manpower."

McHugh said the "indiscriminate nature" of sequestration has forced declines in readiness for the Army. In particular, he cited equipment readiness and personnel readiness for Soldiers.

The secretary said the Army's chief logistician recently told Congress that there is an inventory of equipment that needs to be repaired from Afghanistan -- 800 vehicles, 2,000 weapons and 32 helicopters, for instance. It's "unrepaired and unavailable," he said. Soldiers are also not getting qualified on their M-4 weapons unless they are getting prepared to deploy.

The secretary said sequestration has cost the Army $1.7 billion for reset in fiscal year 2013.

"This is no way to manage the greatest military the world has ever known," he said. "And it sure as hell is no way to manage the greatest country on the face of this earth."

Later, during a press conference alongside Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the secretary said that despite the budget cuts, and lack of uncertainty in funding for Army training and equipment readiness, Soldiers will never go to war unless they are ready to go.

"The chief and I have made a commitment to ourselves and to the men and women who wear the uniform and their families, and that is for all the of the tough times that they have ahead, whatever the Army end strength and its budgets may look like, we will never send the Soldier into war unprepared, untrained and improperly equipped," McHugh said.

Odierno told reporters at a press conference following the opening ceremony that right now, there are only two brigades are ready for combat operations. Another two brigades, he said, are ready to go to Afghanistan. But those units are ready for "train and advise" missions, not combat operations.

Odierno said he expects to up that number to seven brigades trained by June 2014, however.

McHugh and Odeirno also touched on some force-reduction efforts. In particular, a directive by the secretary of defense to reduce headquarters staffs by 20 percent. McHugh, however, upped that number to 25 percent.

"The headquarters cuts are not directly intended to address units, these are administrative functionaries," he said.

The secretary said those personnel, largely civilians, play an important role in the Army. But he said he and the chief feel they can take some out.

"The chief and I felt very strongly that headquarters reduction was a place that we could just do things more smartly and do it with fewer people," he said.

Odierno said the potential cuts could be in the thousands, and the plan might be implemented somewhere around 2015 and beyond.

"The response we've gotten is very positive from our subordinate commands. They are working this hard. They understand that we have to become more efficient and effective," he said.

On the military side, there are already plans to reduce the end strength of the Army to 490,000 by 2017. Earlier this year, the Army spelled out which brigades would be eliminated to make that happen.

Odierno said that now that plan may be sped up to 2015, instead of 2017.

"We are still working through the budget process to decide that," he said.

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