U.S. will remain world power despite budget ‘mess’

| May 3, 2013 | 0 Comments
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discusses the Defense Department's budget with U.S. service members during a town hall meeting, here, April 25. (U.S. Department of Defense photo)

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discusses the Defense Department’s budget with U.S. service members during a town hall meeting, here, April 25. (U.S. Department of Defense photo)

Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn’t mince words when he spoke about the Defense Department’s fiscal challenges during a town hall gathering, at Yokota Air Base, Japan, April 25.

“OK, the budget,” Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said. “It’s a mess. It’s just a real mess.”

This year’s budget is particularly difficult because we’re trying to absorb all these changes in the last six months of the fiscal year, the chairman said.

Dempsey said the military will get through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, by stretching its readiness as far as possible and being “extraordinarily careful about how we spend our money.”

The services have reduced maintenance, flying hours and steaming hours, he noted.

Aspects of the funding squeeze “just are heart-wrenching,” Dempsey said.

He told civilian employees in the audience that he is “personally embarrassed” about “this issue of furlough (that) hangs over you.”

Current Defense Department plans call for cutting 14 days from civilian employees’ work schedules and paychecks between June and the end of September. Dempsey has said, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has told the chairman and the service chiefs to “get that number (of furlough days) down as low as you can.”

“And we will,” he added, noting that the challenge in doing so is getting to the end of the fiscal year with a force that is still ready. The answer, he said, is that money has to come out of modernization, maintenance, training and compensation.

In response to a question about changes to the military retirement system, Dempsey said any changes will be “grandfathered” to exclude those currently serving. Service members have a right to expect that the promises made to them when they joined up will be kept, he said, adding, “I haven’t heard anyone waffle about that.”

Any changes to retirement will be subject to a committee or a commission’s study, he said, and will not happen quickly.

“I do think we need to change,” the chairman said.

He explained that while only 17 percent of those who serve eventually retire, the Defense Department is required to set aside retirement funds for 100 percent of the force.

Manpower costs at their current level will overwhelm modernization and training, Dempsey said.

“I don’t want to be the chairman known for having taken a machete to your paycheck,” he said. “That’s not the reputation I want to have. … But I don’t want you being the most well-compensated military on the planet that doesn’t train.”

The U.S. military won’t withdraw to “Fortress America,” Dempsey said, and the Defense Department has pared back its forward presence in places such as Japan, the Korean Peninsula and Europe “about as far as we can.”

Rotational deployments and other measures can help the nation’s military “accomplish almost the same thing, but with smaller force structures,” he said.

“We’re going to have to think about how to remain a global power with fewer resources, and also managing it inside of an (operational tempo) that is acceptable to you. … I’m actually quite confident we’ll be able to figure that out,” he said.

Dempsey told the troops to remember one thing: “We are going to do less with less, but not less well. That’s the commitment. … You’re still going to be the best-trained, best-equipped, best-led force on the planet.”

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Category: News, Sustainability

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