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McHugh: Budget cuts would mean 'dark and dangerous' future

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 17, 2015) -- The Army's ability to continue to operate globally and to stay trained and equipped to perform missions around the world is threatened by looming budget cuts, Army Secretary John M. McHugh told lawmakers.

McHugh testified March 17 before the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Budget request.

For the committee, McHugh highlighted recent Army actions and activities, which illustrate precisely the kinds of things the Army would be unable to do were its funding to be cut below the $127 billion it requested in its Fiscal Year 2016 budget, and were it not able to adequately prepare Soldiers for the kind of pop-up contingencies the Army responds to now.

In the last year, he said, the geopolitical landscape has "morphed" to include aggression by Russia in Ukraine, increased threats from North Korea, and gains by terrorists in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Added to that, he said, there has been the threat from Ebola in West Africa.

"As Russian-backed forces rolled into Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and threatened regional stability, our Soldiers rapidly deployed to Eastern Europe in a demonstration of U.S. commitment and resolve," he said.

In Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia, Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne and the 1st Cavalry "showed the world that America would stand with our NATO allies and respond to unbridled aggression."

In West Africa, he said, "elements of several units, led by the 101st Airborne, provided command and control, equipment and expertise to support efforts to stop this deadly and destabilizing disease," he said.

In regard to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, "your Soldiers quickly returned to Iraq to advise and assist security forces in turning the tide on this barbaric group of radical terrorists," he said.

And in the Pacific, the Army has been involved in Pacific Pathways to strengthen relationships there.

"Your Army has been managing to tackle contingencies around the world, even though they grow at an alarming rate," he said.

These types of requirements have not been foreseeable, he said, but rather unexpected. And this is exactly the kind of response he predicts the Army will be called on more often in the future to provide - and what the Army will not be able to do without adequate funding.

Budget cuts, he said, mean Soldiers are not going to be trained to fight when they are called on to do so. If called on to respond, he said, the Army may be forced to send Soldiers into dangerous situations where they are ill-equipped and ill-trained to perform their mission.

Lack of training, lack of equipment, and lack of manning - direct results from slashed budgets - means increased risk in the Army. And that translates directly to lives.

It "means people dying, risk means greater injuries, risk means people don't come home," McHugh said. "Ladies and gentlemen, our Army, your Army, faces a dark and dangerous future unless the Congress acts now to end these ill-conceived and inflexible budget cuts."

Looking at the effects that continued budget cuts from sequestration could have on manpower in the near future, McHugh said by 2019 the Army could lose another six brigade combat teams, and possibly a division headquarters.

Such cuts would mean the Army would be unable to meet the demands of the Defense Strategic Guidance, McHugh said, something he does not think America is ready to accept.

"I don't think the American people are really postured to accept a military that can't answer the bell wherever the challenge may arise," he said.

TAKING CARE OF SOLDIERS

During 13 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army and its sister services built up robust capabilities to take care of Service members who were injured in combat. McHugh said the Army continues to maintain that capability and is in the process of right-sizing it to meet current demands.

"I think we have a legal responsibility, but even more a moral responsibility to ensure that those who return home, in the first instance, get the medical care that they deserve," he said.

He said the Army is now reconfiguring its warrior transition commands "to respond to the realities of the diminishing budgets, but also the phasing out of wartime activities that we have endured for the last 13 years."

He said the Army still plans to provide this capability to wounded Soldiers, to ensure the Army is "providing care in the most effective and efficient manner possible."

CYBER EFFORTS

Because threats in the information technology domain continue to grow, the Army has built a significant capability to defend against threats over the network. McHugh said the Army is in the process of standing up 41 cyber protection teams now, and that 24 are at initial operating capability.

"By the end of 2016, we expect all 41 to be up and operating," McHugh said.

He also said the Army National Guard is setting up 11 cyber protection teams, while the Army Reserve will have 10. Within the reserve components, he said, there is ample expertise in the information technology realm, as many Guardsmen and Reservists have civilian jobs in related career fields that they can bring to the table while in uniform.

Additionally, McHugh said, the Army is structuring benefits and bonuses to help it compete for those high-tech individuals.