Congress hears budget will avoid 'hollow force'

February 17, 2012

By David Vergun

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 17, 2012) -- "We have to avoid another Task Force Smith as we move forward" with these budget discussions, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told lawmakers.

Task Force Smith was a small Army force rushed to Korea in 1950 to keep South Korea from being overrun by forces from the North. The enemy outnumbered the Americans 10 to one. This followed a post-World War II drawdown of U.S. forces and equipment, and was used as an anology by House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard McKeon, ranking member Adam Smith, and other representatives to current proposed Army budget cuts.

The House Armed Services hearing today was a fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization budget request from the Department of the Army. The Army requested $184.6 billion in this year's budget -- about $18 billion less than what the Army received in fiscal 2012. Of that, about $134.6 billion is part of the "base" request, for the generating force. An additional $50 billion is to support overseas contingency operations, such as the war in Afghanistan.

To avoid a "hollow force," similar to the post World War II one as McKeon termed it, Odierno said the "Army would need the length of the ramp to be five years to enable us to keep our best, combat-tested NCOs and officers." The ramp he spoke of would allow incremental cuts and time to assess their impacts.

Congressmen voiced concerns over a wide range of cuts, from veterans health care to weapons and systems programs. "The budget supports modernization, training, Soldiers and families and enables the Army to remain the most lethal force in the world," Army Secretary John McHugh told them. He added that "This budget reflects hard decisions and a new defense strategy which emphasizes a smaller, more agile land force."

He noted that Soldiers are engaged in 150 countries in humanitarian and combat roles and "at home helping with rescue and recovery efforts dealing with wildfires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes." He said he expected those missions to continue.

Odierno added that the budget would support two major theater operations, if required, but "there would be risks if those operations were extended." He said the Army, which has been planning this budget for months, built in "reversibility" so that personnel and equipment could be ramped up if the security situation required it.

McHugh, Odierno and nearly all representatives voiced concerns over the looming threat of sequestration, which McHugh said "would have devastating effects on the Army, its Soldiers and families, who would have to bear that cross. It is beyond risky. Unacceptable is an understatement." Sequestration refers to the 2011 Budget Control Act, triggering billions of dollars in cuts to the military beginning next January -- unless government action is taken to avert it.

Funding for some programs would continue or increase, such as suicide and sexual harrassment prevention. Rep. Susan A. Davis and several other congress members voiced concerns over sexual harrassment and questioned the effectiveness of the Army in dealing with it.

Odierno said the issue is top priority and is "a leadership issue." He said "victims need to feel comfortable reporting it and should be given the opportunity to report it outside the chain of command, if that's what they feel comfortable doing." He said leaders at all levels would be "held accountable for the morale and discipline of their units and will and are receiving training at all levels on the issue's importance and what they can and should do legally" to address the problem.

Representatives also voiced concerns over the impact of cancelled or reduced weapons programs. McHugh said he is working with the Defense Department on mitigating the effects, which would include loss of skilled civilian workers in those programs, when they would be needed later when and if the programs restart. Some solutions, he said, include weapons and systems sales to foreign governments and keeping the assembly lines open through public-private partnerships.

Odierno summed up the Army's budgetary decisions as reflecting future "hybrid threats, which could include terror, criminal, unconventional, as well as conventional." He said the budget also emphasizes people and needed programs, such as resetting equipment from Iraq and Afghanistan and a renewed emphasis in the Asia-Pacific region. The chief and secretary promised there would not be a TF Smith repeat on their watch.

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