General: Budget deficit a challenge for armed forces

RENO --The Army Chief of Staff commended the role of the National Guard at its annual conference in Reno on Monday but said the future role of the nation's oldest service will depend more on a "Total Army" concept.

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, former commander of U.S. troops in Iraq before becoming Army chief of staff in 2010, told guardsmen at the National Guard Association of the United States conference that the country's deficit will present unique challenges in the next decade.

"To build the Army of 2020 must ensure the right balance of overall end strength through readiness and modernization," Odierno said, citing the nation's significant fiscal issues.

He said the active Army is taking the majority of cuts as the Pentagon enacts $487 billion in defense-wide reductions; however, more cuts could be looming for the Army but and other services. Odierno said sequestration, the additional cuts that would be automatically enacted if Congress fails to reach a deficit-reduction agreement, could result in $500 billion in additional cuts over a 10-year period.

"Even if sequestration is not executed, we could also experience additional cuts in the $100 billion to $200 billion range," Odierno warned. "We will be watching it very closely next year."

Odierno drew applause when he vowed to be transparent with the National Guard as the Army examines the budgetary process.

Odierno said he has outlined five priorities for both the Army and National Guard. He said the top priority is for the Army to support soldiers in Afghanistan. He also said the continued development of the Army's future is critical as it maintains an all-volunteer force. He said the Army must develop leadership for the future and reinvigorate its service to the nation.

According to Odierno, the application of a total force will include the active Army, Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve to support U.S. commitments around the world.

During a question-and-answer session after his prepared remarks, Odierno said on Aug. 8 that President Barack Obama excluded the reduction of personnel from sequestration. He said the long-term focus, though, will be on tighter funds for training and equipment.

Because of the reduction of active-duty Army solders from Iraq and Afghanistan, Odierno said the Pentagon will shrink the size of the active component.

"More budget cuts will determine what needs to be reduced," he added.

Odierno said the Defense Strategic Guidance as presented by the president and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is very focused on future requirements with priorities centered on the Asia-Pacific region, closely followed by the Middle East. He said the total Army, however, must be ready and capable to respond to the world's hot spots.

While the active Army looks at more reductions, he doesn't foresee the National Guard taking as many budgetary hits.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Odierno said the National Guard has played a major part in the country's defense.

He said "citizen soldiers" were the first to respond within hours after passenger jets crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Within days of the attacks, he said guardsmen were mobilized to provide security at military installations and the nation's airports. Furthermore, since troops deployed to Afghanistan in late 2001 and then Iraq in 2003, Odierno said about 50 percent of the soldiers in the Guard are combat veterans.

He also noted the Guard's involvement after Hurricane Isaac struck the Gulf Coast, assisting states in battling wildfires in the western and central U.S and providing security at both the Republican and Democrat national conventions.

Odierno said the Guard and Army Reserve will train to the same standards as the active Army, and he added that families and employers could expect citizen soldiers being called up for 12 months during a five-year span.


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