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No Can Do

 

Once again, the can-do determination of the U.S. Army becomes apparent with its reaction to the recent announcement of resource reductions. The choice to ‘‘slow the growth,’’ which subjects military personnel to a reduction of future pay increases so money can be diverted to readiness and research and development, is now partnered with another end-strength reduction of 50,000 to save more money.
 
When explaining the 2015 budget proposal to Congress, an official spokesman said capping basic pay, reducing the basic allowance for quarters and cutting the subsidy for commissaries were required in order to maintain readiness and prevent mortgaging the future. That was the plan for supporting an active Army force of 490,000 – already a reduction of 80,000 from the same Army that needed about 200,000 mobilized Reserve soldiers, another 200,000 contract personnel and a multiple-rotation policy to fight the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.
 
The latest DoD proposal, which would make no change in the national military strategy, offers a further end-strength reduction to 440,000 or 450,000 for the active Army, a total loss of about 130,000 from the peak strength reached two or three years earlier. The Army h ad already announced that an Army of 440,000 will satisfy the minimum essential force required by the strategy. Further, it already has plans for reducing the personnel complement of every major headquarters – including the Army’s Pentagon staff – by 25 percent, reducing the personnel and unit structure at every major installation, proposing a 2017 Base Realignment and Closure, and a reduction in force of the officer and NCO corps.
 
It is well established that the first responsibility of Army leaders, when the White House or Congress announces a resource-related decision, is to accommodate the change and make it work. Discussions of risks or difficulties are not sought, generally not welcome, and usually identified only by critical outside experts of varied creditability and qualifications.
 
Unfortunately, Army risks and difficulties receive little attention. A recent Washington Post headline proclaimed that lawmakers rejected the White House’s proposal for military cuts and that Congress will restore between $18 billion and $25 billion to the defense budget. Except for overruling the 1 percent pay reduction, restoration would be limited to specific budget lines that have political or economic effects – for example, defense contracts or jobs. There was no reference to added risks, reduced capabilities or the adequacy of the military structure.
 
The Washington Times published an eight-page special section entitled ‘‘Aerospace & Defense’’ in which 12 members of Congress and two other experts were asked for their views of the impact of the new budget limitations. Highlighted were concerns about needed intelligence resources; keep in the Air Force’s A-10 close support, the EA18G Growler electronic attack, the F-35 air supremacy aircraft, and the Marine V-22 and C2; and maintaining support of veterans. One member of Congress mentioned the end strength reduction among a list of impact issues, but that was the only appearance of the word Army in the entire eight pages.
 
Other new media articles deplore sequestration and its projected effects, but almost all are concerned with the loss of jobs or dollars associated with defense contracts or operating funds at military installations. None is concerned with job losses among the soldiers who will no longer be employed, a sizable percentage of whom are career-oriented painful participants in the multiple deployments required by the missions and operations of the past two decades.
 
There is no contention that resource reduction is not needed or that some of the specifics are not good ideas. Slowing the growth is a great idea, but why not apply it to the whole government structure and social programs as well?
 
TO single out military personnel is to remand them to an unfair secondary status. The 25 percent reduction of headquarters ought to apply to DoD and many other governmental offices – to congressional staffs, perhaps.
 
Unfortunately, they can-do accommodation almost always becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  When the Army finds a way to promise mission-essential capability with an end-strength level of 440,000, no one sees a real requirement to return to 490,000 or some other number that would be more risk-averting. If the job can be done with 25% fewer people in headquarters, why were there so many there in the first place? If you can add a couple thousand West Point and ROTC second lieutenants to the force in exchange for captains, majors and lieutenant colonels subject to Defense Officer Personnel Management Act reductions, you have already accepted the degradation that is associated with the loss of operations and management experience.
 
The resolution of the current situation is the responsibility of Congress, the ultimate authority for raising the Army. Demand for a credible national military strategy from DoD, coupled with a proposed force-development program from each of the services, is the fundamental need. Affordability is also a congressional problem. Meanwhile, readiness and protecting the Army’s future ought not to be dependent on savings derived by firing some soldiers and reducing the pay of others.
 

Gen. Frederick J. Kroesen, USA Ret., formerly served as Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and commander in chief of U.S. Army Europe.  He is a senior fellow of AUSA's Institute of Land Warfare and 1st Vice President of the American Security Council Foundation.

 

Reprinted with permission from ARMY Magazine, Vol. 64 #8.  The Association of the United States Army.