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Military leaders say deeper cuts could cripple mission

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (MCT) | Published: October 14, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly a year after sequestration and a government shutdown forced U.S. military leaders to pinch pennies, Army leaders again warned that deep budget cuts could cripple the force.

Speaking at the annual Association of the U.S. Army Meeting and Exposition, Secretary of the Army John H. McHugh warned that deep automatic cuts that could happen in October of next year could prevent the Army from being able to meet the demand placed upon it by an increasingly unstable world.

McHugh noted that sequestration, by law, will again come into effect if left unchecked by Congress.

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, echoed McHugh, saying the next eight to 12 months are possibly the most important times in the nation's history, as leaders wrestle with what to do with the military in the face of difficult budget decisions.

Odierno and McHugh spoke on the first day of the AUSA meetings, an event in which Army leaders unveiled their new operating concept, which they said would prepare the Army to operate multiple, diverse missions across the globe.

But that concept could be jeopardized if the force is cut too far, officials said.

Gen. Mark A. Milley, speaking hours after McHugh and Odierno, had a similar warning.

The commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, which is headquartered at Fort Bragg, oversees the preparation of soldiers for combat commanders.

He said the Army learned its lesson once before, when the force was hollowed out following World War II.

The Army was the greatest fighting force in the world in 1945, Milley said. But just five years later, it's forces were overrun by 80,000 North Korean soldiers.

"Be careful," Milley said. "It doesn't take long to rip an Army apart."

Milley warned that the cost of an unprepared Army would be paid in the blood of its soldiers.

"The cost of unpreparedness is paid in dead bodies," he said. "And they're our dead bodies."

Milley said that, as members of the Executive Branch of government, Army leaders could not lobby for specific action. But he and other leaders made clear their fears.

"I don't think there's any question," said McHugh, who added that both sides of the Congressional aisle understand the challenges facing the military.

"Individually, everyone understands," Odierno said. "Collectively, we can't get them right now to make a decision."

Previously, Odierno said the Army would likely have to cut its force to 420,000, if sequestration takes place.

Monday, he said that number places the Army in a "huge window of risk," given the numerous "hot spots" around the world. And that sequestration would harm modernization and readiness.

That's on top of difficult decisions the Army has already made, Odierno said.

Odierno said the risk to readiness was not readily understood outside of the force.

He said the Army did a good job of masking sequestration cuts last year.

"There will come a time when we can't do that," he said.

©2014 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services
 

The Secretary of the Army John McHugh speaks during the opening ceremony of the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting at the Walter E. Washington convention center in Washington, Oct. 13, 2014.
LAURA BUCHTA/U.S. ARMY

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