Not only does the U.S. Army face rapid, unpredictable changes in the geopolitical landscape, but also the uncertainty of an adversary -- sequestration -- here at home, Army Secretary John M. McHugh said here today.
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, McHugh, joined by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, discussed the Army’s fiscal year 2016 budget request and challenges imposed by sequestration’s return as demand for the Army grows.
“It is amazing how much can change in a year,” McHugh said. “Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen the geopolitical landscape morph, really, at an astonishing pace.”
From renewed aggression by Russia and increased threats from North Korea to gains by radical terrorists in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, to the fight against Ebola, he said, “the demand for your Army to tackle contingencies around the world have grown at an alarming rate.”
Facing an Enemy at Home
“Far from being foreseeable,” McHugh said, “our requirements have been more unexpected, our enemies more unpredictable and our ability to handle multiple, simultaneous operations more uncertain.”
“And yet,” he said, “with such volatility and instability around the world, America’s Army is faced, yet again, with an enemy here at home -- the return of sequestration.”
Citing unprepared units, unmaintained equipment and untrained soldiers, McHugh said the Army faces a “dark and dangerous” future unless Congress acts now to end “these ill-conceived and inflexible budget cuts.”
He added, “Moreover -- and I want to be clear here --every installation, every component and nearly every program will feel the brunt of these cuts.”
Under sequestration, McHugh said, by 2019 the Army will reduce its end strength to “unconscionable levels,” likely losing another six brigade combat teams and potentially a division headquarters, along with associated affects to support infrastructure.
“It is our shared responsibility to jealously preserve the gains in readiness, modernization and training that we’ve achieved through your critically important support,” he said.
Army’s Recent Achievements
The Army secretary shared some of the Army’s achievements over the past year to illustrate the service’s impact.
“As Russian-backed forces rolled into Crimea and threatened regional stability,” McHugh said, “our soldiers rapidly deployed to Eastern Europe [as] a demonstration of U.S. commitment.”
He added, “From Latvia and Lithuania to Poland and Estonia, soldiers from 173rd Airborne and the 1st Cavalry showed the world that America would stand with our NATO allies and respond to unbridled aggression.”
Led by the 101st Airborne Division, McHugh noted, several elements acted to assist thousands suffering from Ebola in West Africa, providing command and control, equipment and expertise to support efforts to stop the disease.
Turning to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, McHugh said, “Your soldiers quickly returned to Iraq to advise and assist security forces and turn the tide on this barbaric [group] of radical terrorists.”
The Army secretary noted that in the Pacific region, thousands of soldiers and civilians support operations strengthening U.S. partnerships and providing increased presence.
While Army formations become leaner, more agile and more lethal, he said, the headquarters of nine active Army divisions and two Guard divisions are currently committed to combatant commands, and 144,000 soldiers are deployed, forward stationed or committed -- including 19,000 mobilized reservists.
Success Comes at a Price
In the end, McHugh said, the Army’s “extraordinary” success comes at a price.
“The stress of war, multiple deployments and unpredictable requirements doesn’t change in the face of indiscriminate funding cuts,” he said. “Through it all, we have, and we will, remain committed to supporting the needs of our warriors.”
McHugh said the Army will keep faith with its soldiers, but “rest assured,” the return of sequestration will have a direct, Army-wide impact on critical installation and family programs.
“Simply put,” he said, “we need the president’s budget. Our $126.5 billion request is some $6 billion over the potential sequester level and is specifically designed to preserve our modest gains … over the last year and take care of your soldiers.
“If approved, we’ll invest $3.4 billion above the fiscal year ’15 funding levels in training, sustainment and installation programs,” McHugh continued, “that directly support combat readiness; and $2.6 billion in research, development and acquisition to equip soldiers, to protect key parts of the industrial base and support new innovations.”
The Army’s funding request seeks vital reforms to compensation and force structure, he said, which will support near-term readiness and help place the service on a predictable path to balance.
“I cannot emphasize enough how these critical reforms and funds are necessary to ensuring that your Army has sufficiently trained and ready soldiers to protect our nation,” McHugh said.
McHugh said this is a “historic moment,” and called for congressional action to end sequestration.
“We need to stop talking and start acting,” he said. “We need wisdom -- not words. We need results -- not rhetoric. And as I said last year, we need predictability -- not politics.”
As the Army faces “extreme” instability around the world, McHugh said, there must be certainty here at home.
“Your soldiers -- and I know you agree -- deserve no less,” he said. “We must have an end to sequestration this year, and we must have this budget.”
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallDoDNews)