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Top Military Officials Say FY2016 Sequestration Will Threaten Current, Future Operations

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Military and Department of Defense leaders testified in front of congressional panels this week, laying out worst case scenarios that could come to fruition if sequestration is allowed to continue. While sequestration seems to some like a good idea to cut the size of government, some of the unintended victims of these cuts are members of the United States military and their families.

In a recent hearing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Senate Armed Services Committee, America’s top military officers laid out the case for scaling back cuts that have been detrimental to all branches of the uniformed services.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, told the committee headed by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), “We have already significantly reduced the capabilities of the United States Army, and this is before sequestration begins again in 2016. In the last 3 years, the Army’s active component end strength has been reduced by 80,000; the reserve component by 18,000.”

“It will challenge us to meet even our current level of commitments to our allies and partners around the world [and] will eliminate our capability, on any scale, to conduct simultaneous operations, specifically deterring in one region while defeating [an opposing force] in another.” – Gen. Ray Odierno

In addition to combat force reductions, sequestration has hindered command readiness by halting equipment modernization, leaving soldiers working with antiquated and faulty gear.

“We have eliminated our much needed infantry fighting vehicle modernization program [and] our scout helicopter development program,” Odierno said. “We have significantly delayed other upgrades for many of our systems and aging platforms.”

These upgrades are critical components to maintaining the best fighting force in the world.

Air Force General Mark Welsh III echoed those sentiments when he discussed the effect sequestration continues to have on his aging fleet of aircrafts.

“If World War II’s venerable B-17 Bomber had flown in the first Gulf War, it would’ve been younger than the B-52, the K-135 and the U-2 are today.  We must modernize our Air Force,” the general told committee members.

Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph F. Dunford Jr. highlighted the toll that sequestration has played on servicemen and women and their families.

Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and their families should never have to face doubts about whether they will be deployed without proper training and equipment.
Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
“Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and their families should never have to face doubts about whether they will be deployed without proper training and equipment. Sequestration will erode the trust that our young men and women in uniform, civil servants and families have in their leadership — and the cost of losing that trust is incalculable,” he said.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the lone dissenter, paints a different picture. In a statement released Monday, Dempsey said:

“Released today, the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2016 reverses the decline in national defense spending of the past five years. The proposed budget helps ensure we can manage risk and meet near-term defense needs while preparing for the future. However, it represents the minimum resource level necessary to remain a capable, ready and appropriately sized force able to meet our global commitments. Also know that we are as focused as ever on getting the most out of every defense dollar. Reforms are necessary to ensure we can do that and we look for forward to working with Congress as we move forward.”

This statement came mere days after General Dempsey called sequestration “absolutely crazy.”

“The combination of the Budget Control Act and the sequestration mechanism will make it impossible for us to meet our global responsibilities,” he said in an interview on January 26.

Critics say Dempsey may be putting politics first by coming out in favor of Obama’s budget proposal.

According to Under Secretary of Defense Mike McCord, there are some small breakdowns that will directly affect morale and the welfare of servicemen and women. The two most significant items involve pay for service members and various changes to the military’s Tricare health system.

According to a U.S. Department of Defense release:

“[President Obama’s FY2016 budget request] looks to consolidate Tricare health care plans with alternated deductibles/co-pays that will encourage beneficiaries to seek health care in the most appropriate setting and improve the continuity of care. DoD also looks for Congress to approve modest annual fees for Tricare-for-Life coverage for retirees 65 and older. And, the budget looks for additional changes to the pharmacy co-pay structure for retirees and active duty family members.”

Additionally, the budget allows for a 1.3 percent pay increase, which while .3 percent larger than anticipated, is a far cry from the projected cost of living increase for FY 2016. On top of that, he Tricare fee hikes are aimed at those who are already on a fixed income and can often ill afford the increase.

When coupled with increases in co-pays and deductibles, soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and their families will be facing a net loss of income while providing an increased workload due to force reductions. Naval deployments have increased from 6 months to 8 and sometimes 10 months, according to the chief of naval operations, Admiral Johnathan W. Greenert.

These changes have an overall cooling effect on recruitment and retention, as some families simply can’t afford to live on the salaries DoD provides. Extended deployments and reduced training take a toll on service members who have joined the military to be the best, but are working with substandard equipment and increased duty assignments.

This translates to problems within their families, increased stress, and an overall increase in mental health, domestic violence, and substance abuse issues.

In all, sequestration seems to be a mess for the United States military and its members. While the nation’s top military officials have finally reported it to Congress, what actions Congress will take to correct these issues is unclear.

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