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Gates puts generals on the chopping block

Even stars on your shoulder won't protect you from the budget cuts announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday. He plans to cut at least 50 general and flag officer positions in order to curtail a military he said has become "a top-heavy hierarchy that more reflects 20th-century protocols than 21st-century realities."

The services currently boast about 950 general and flag officers (including 40 four-stars and 150 three-stars), up about 100 from 2001 levels. Lawmakers including Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., have complained that those numbers are too high, and the ratio of top officers to rank-and-file troops has fallen out of balance.

Gates called it "brass creep," borrowing a phrase from former Sen. John Glenn. "Apart from meeting genuine war-related needs, we have also ... a situation where personnel of higher and higher rank are assigned to do things that could reasonably be handled by personnel of lower rank."

The secretary called for a system of  "more agile and responsive structures" with fewer top leaders and less bureaucracy. He specifically called out the four-star service component headquarters in Europe, noting that "long after the end of the Cold War and long after the vast majority of their fighting forces have departed."

But he stopped short of identifying which units might lose their generals. The cuts are expected to take place over the next two years.

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