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Soldiers are top budget priority

Sgt. Maj. of the Army says ‘everything is on the table’

Army News Service

Published: 02:59PM February 7th, 2013

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Sequestration is a “huge concern for us,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III. If sequestration kicks in, a lot of programs could be affected, he told about 50 sergeants major who were attending a new legal orientation course at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center & School on the campus of the University of Virginia, Jan. 29.

Sequestration, part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, includes deep cuts to defense that could begin March 1 if Congress cannot come to agreement on budget cuts required by their vote last year.

“Everything is on the table,” Chandler said, from a reduction in permanent change-of-station moves and new construction to cutbacks in professional military education and temporary duty assignment funding, even for programs like the Department of the Army’s Best Warrior Competition. Army civilians could be affected as well, he added.

“The last thing we want to do is to furlough employees,” but it is being considered, he said.

There’s a lot of trade-offs to consider and the Army is going to have to figure out what stays and what goes, he said, “but (Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno’s) top prior ity is on the warfighter.” Senior Army leaders have also repeatedly expressed strong commitment to wounded warriors and Army Families.

Continuing resolution

The continuing resolution is another concern, Chandler said.

Since Congress did not approve an Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2013, the Defense Department has been operating under a continuing resolution and will continue to do so at least through March 27.

Because most operating funding was planned to increase from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2013, but instead is being held at fiscal 2012 levels under the continuing resolution, funds will run short at current rates of expenditure if the continuing resolution continues through the end of the fiscal year in its current form, according to a Jan. 10 DOD memorandum.

The continuing resolution prevents the Army from transferring money, Chandler said. “So you’ve got a lot of money in OCO, or overseas contingency operations, but because we’re under a CR, we can’t spend it where we need to. We don’t have the flexibility we need. So that means if you’re not a deployed unit or a next-deploying unit, we’re going to ramp back your money and go from there.”

Army leaders “are right now in a place where their backs are up against a wall,” he said.

“There are three (valves) that can be turned,” he explained. “One is force structure, how many people we have in the Army. The next one is readiness, and then modernization.

“We’ve turned the modernization one down about as far as we can go. We’ve either killed programs, or we’ve extended programs. And so we really can’t do much more in the modernization arena.

“Then you’ve got readiness,” he said, which includes training. “We’ve got a fiscal restraint memo that the Army sent out saying we’re going to cut way back on about everything we can do over the next several months” in the way of readiness. These include curtailing temporary duties and professional training that are not mission critical.”

“And then the other one is force structure,” he said, meaning the total number of Soldiers in all Army components. “Depending on which direction Congress goes is really going to determine how large of an Army we have or how ready an Army we’re going to have. We just don’t have an answer right now.”

What can Soldiers do?

Chandler then called on the sergeants major to take action individually; urging them to answer their elected officials if they ask how sequestration will affect military members that they represent.

“(Tell them) ‘we’re in a pretty bad hurt box that we just really can’t change. It’s out of our control. We really need your help.’ And that’s going to carry weight.”

Following his visit with the sergeants major at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center & School, Chandler visited about 50 Soldiers who were attending the Noncommissioned Officer Academy there.

During a question-and-answer session with noncommissioned officers, a sergeant asked Chandler about the impact a reduced budget might have on the retention of “professional NCOs.” Chandler replied that the Army will continue to retain the best qualified Soldiers and will continue to challenge them. He had a warning, however.

Chandler told the NCOs that in these times of fiscal uncertainty, they must exert leadership and initiative. “I challenge you as a leader, and you as a leader can challenge your subordinates,” he said. “Even in tough times you can be creative, adaptive and agile as leaders and inspire your Soldiers to want to stay as part of the team. Leadership is the key ingredient.”

He cited examples of things NCOs might do if they have a limited budget, which he categorizes as “getting back to the basics,”such as physical readiness training, language skills that aid deployments, and warrior tasks and battle drills.

“These are low cost, but important squad-level training events that maintain some level of readiness in our units,” he said. “I have full faith and confidence that our Soldiers and leaders will rise to this challenge.”