Military Times reporter Leo Shane reports that at a House Congressional Hearing on Wednesday, the military’s top enlisted leaders testified that looming budget cuts not only are stoking anxiety among troops but also fundamentally changing how they think about the military.
"Thirty years ago, if you were a good airman and worked hard, you could serve for 20 years. I'm not sure you can say the same today," said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody, who added that budget uncertainty "is curtailing the ability to serve."
All the services face potential draw downs in coming years as part of post-war defense funding cuts and looming sequestration budget caps, marginally modified in the current fiscal year budget but set to go into full automatic effect in October at the start of the new 2016 fiscal year.
Pentagon budget planners have lamented those budget restraints as dangerous to national security, but over the last three years Congress has not found any realistic compromise to replace or dismiss the disproportional spending cuts to national security. As NAUS readers know, defense spending, which represents less than 18 percent of federal spending, is required to provide 50 percent of the total cuts in spending. Lawmakers have promised to redouble efforts to find a solution this year, but so far shown little public progress.
On Wednesday, the enlisted leaders said the looming threats are not just theoretical concerns, but are provoking immediate anxiety in the ranks, with service members expressing fears about what the budget moves will mean to their readiness, pay and career options.
Army officials already have said they'll have to trim their service's ranks to about 420,000 soldiers — if not more — by the end of the decade if the sequestration cuts aren't repealed. "We may have to tell good soldiers to go home," said Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey.
Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Stevens said sailors also have begun asking about possible pay cuts, equipment losses and training reductions as they look at coming years' budgets.
"They are concerned," he told lawmakers. "Uncertainty in the geopolitical and operational world is understandable. However, ambiguity in areas that we control, such as sequestration, are not so easily understood by them." Master Chief Stevens called sequestration "a forced diet," adding that "over the last few years, we've lost all the weight we could afford to lose. There's no more fat."