Odierno: Changing World Requires New Look at Army’s Size


The Army is going to shrink, the service’s chief of staff said here today, but leaders must be careful that cuts aren’t draconian.

Speaking to NPR’s Tom Bowman at the Defense One Summit, Gen. Ray Odierno said events around the world have added their own pressure as leaders debate what ultimately will be the size of the force.

Next year, the Army’s active force will drop to 490,000 soldiers. Given budget realities, leaders have said the service likely will drop to 440,000 to 450,000 in the future, with some estimates putting the number at 420,000 if sequestration spending cuts resume in fiscal 2016.

Odierno has warned repeatedly that dropping the size of the force too low increases military risk.

“When we developed the new defense strategy in 2012, we all agreed that 490,000 was the right strength to execute the strategy,” the general said. “Then what happened on top of that was sequestration, which has caused the Defense Department to make more difficult decisions.”

Force Cuts Mean Increased Risk Level

Reviews after sequestration spending cuts kicked in said the Army still could execute its assigned missions, he added, but would increase the level of risk.

But the world has a say. When leaders made those assessments, Russia hadn’t annexed Crimea and threatened the rest of Ukraine. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant hadn’t invaded northern and western Iraq. Ebola hadn’t metastasized in West Africa.

Today, the United States has an Army brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, in Europe to demonstrate U.S. resolve to defend the region.

“We had also made the assumption that we wouldn’t go back into Iraq,” Odierno said. “We have 1,500 soldiers [in Iraq] now, and another 1,600 that will go in in the next 30 to 45 days, and we believe that is something that will go on for some time -- years, not months.”

And the United States deployed the 101st Airborne Division to West Africa to fight Ebola.

‘We Should be Very Careful’

“The world has changed since we made those [force reduction] decisions,” Odierno said. “Since that time, I have come out and said I have some concerns because of the changing environment. I think we should be very careful and mindful of the decisions we’re making.”

When the strategy was formulated, the general said, the thought was the use of the Army would go down. That has not been the case, the general told the audience. “I still have 55,000 soldiers deployed around the world,” he said. “I still have another 80,000 stationed in 150 countries around the world.”

The Army has soldiers participating in named operations on five continents, the Army chief of staff noted. “That hasn’t happened before in my career,” he said.

Odierno said the “velocity of instability” is increasing significantly, and he doesn’t see a downturn in the use of the Army. Sequestration will cripple the service’s response, he added, forcing leaders to cut the service to 420,000 soldiers.

The general said he will go to Congress to explain the situation again and ask for relief.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)