Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno has been making the rounds in Washington in recent weeks, telling lawmakers and others in the defense policy community that the Army simply can’t absorb any more sequestration cuts without sacrificing readiness.
“Sequestration has had a profound effect on our efforts to prepare units for future contingency operations,” Odierno told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month. “The continued implementation of the reduced discretionary caps, beginning in [fiscal] 2014, will have drastic impacts across all aspects of Army readiness in training, equipment sustainment and modernization, military and civilian manning, and installation support.”
Gordon Adams, a defense budget expert and professor at American University, understands Odierno’s criticism of sequestration because the cuts impact the Army so heavily. But Adams dismissed the notion that the Army is being weakened.
“What Odierno is really worried about is [that] the Army is going to get smaller,” he said. “The big winners in the budget war are going to be the Air Force and the Navy.”
As Odierno continues to complain about the $600 billion in cuts due to hit DOD in the coming years, the Pentagon quietly broke ground on a project thousands of miles away. Construction began last week on a $100 million grade school and high school outside of Stuttgart, Germany. The Pentagon went ahead with the project despite the fact that tens of thousands of troops – and their children – are leaving Germany.
Retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor said these kinds of decisions are emblematic of the Pentagon’s ingrained spending culture.
“The generals say our Army is broke, can’t train, and is not ready for war,” said Macgregor. “But damn it, that’s no reason not to spend $100 million to start construction of a new elementary and new high school in Stuttgart.”
The Pentagon is pulling troops out of Europe for a simple reason: They aren’t needed any longer. Soldiers were stationed throughout Europe to fight a land war against Russia, an event that is today extraordinarily unlikely. Right now, DOD is in the process of relocating the majority of the 65,000 soldiers stationed there.
The impact of DOD’s shift in policy is especially acute in Germany. Two brigade stations have deactivated. Four additional bases are set to be closed in 2015. There are plans to relocate many of the 41,000 troops.
All of this makes the Stuttgart base less important. Fewer troops means fewer families and fewer kids. Yet the Army has soldiered on with plans for the school that are years in the making.
While the price tag for the school is enormous, the number of students it is expected to serve when it opens in 2015 is not. Once completed, the complex of over 27,000 square meters will educate only 1,260 students.
Macgregor said this kind of project and the culture that allows it to continue threatens to disrupt troop readiness.
“Unless [Chuck] Hagel sets aside the Army Chief’s demands for no change, and more money… we will end up with nothing that can fight a capable adversary,” Macgregor said. “By that I mean an opponent with armies, air defenses, air forces and some naval power, something we have not confronted since 1991.”
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