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Army leaders aim to ensure no shortcuts in training amid budget cuts

Fort Bragg's ready-to-go forces will get resources for training, but Army leaders worry about the next-to-go units if the federal budget crisis drags on.

In late February and early this month, the Army, the Air Force and the Canadian armed forces held an exercise at Fort Bragg to hone the skills of the Global Response Force.

The 82nd Airborne Division has a Global Response Force brigade of about 3,500 paratroopers who are trained and ready to respond on short notice to emergencies around the world.

The training included airdrops of people and equipment into a combat scenario. But an emergency might not even involve combat. Three years ago, the brigade was sent to Haiti to support humanitarian efforts after an earthquake.

"The biggest concern I have is the Global Response Force is a very diverse set of capabilities that are aligned to certain contingency missions," said Lt. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps. "There are a number of scenarios out there in the world for which the GRF would not be big enough."

Hot spots around the world include increasing tensions with North Korea, Syrian refugees spilling into neighboring countries and Iran, which has been warned by U.S. officials against developing nuclear weapons.

In August 1990, the 82nd Airborne Division sent its "ready" brigade to Saudi Arabia in response to the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait. In the following weeks, Fort Bragg was funneling forces to Saudi Arabia as fast as possible as part of a large U.S. buildup.

Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, has outlined his concerns to Congress about the readiness of "follow-on" forces with reduced funding.

"If we are not able to train the follow-on forces to the appropriate level of readiness, then we put them at risk if they must be thrust into an emergent situation," Allyn said. "That's not something that commanders are comfortable with. We bear that risk."

Air Force officials have said they will have to cut back on flying hours and airdrop training if the budget restrictions continue.

The 82nd Airborne Division is preparing for possible deployment of its 3rd and 4th brigades to Afghanistan later this year or early next year, and those brigades will get resources, Allyn said.

"If a brigade does not have an assigned mission ... they will be training at the squad level and below," Allyn said. "They will not be doing collective training until they get to an assigned mission time frame. That is a substantial difference in how we have approached the training of our force."

In the long run, restoring readiness will generate even more costs, Allyn said.

"There will be an eroded level of readiness over time," Allyn said. "There will also be a longer period of time to restore their full mission capability once the resources are allocated, depending on how long this period of fiscal uncertainty continues."

Over the years, Fort Bragg soldiers have been called on short notice to fill gaps in combat zones and perform crowd control in tense situations overseas.

"The benefit that we have always had here at Fort Bragg is that commanders could meet their moral responsibility to ensure a soldier never faces an experience in combat that he has not trained to in garrison in peacetime," Allyn said. "That could be more difficult."

cuninghamh@fayobserver.com

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