Army: Only two brigades ready to fight

Budget cuts mean only two Army brigades are combat-ready, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Monday. 

Odierno made the admission at an Army conference, where he said thousands of soldiers might not be properly trained for deployment. 

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“Right now, we have in the Army two brigades that are trained. That's it. Two,” Odierno said at the annual Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference.

“The worst-case scenario is you ask me to deploy thousands of soldiers somewhere, and we have not properly trained them to go, because we simply don't have the dollars and money because of the way sequestration is laid out, that it makes it more difficult,” he said.

Odierno said the Army hoped to have seven brigades prepared for combat by the end of June. The numbers did not include those brigades deploying to Afghanistan, the Army general said, but even those brigades aren’t trained for combat.

“They are trained to be trainers and advisers, do force protection, all of those kind of things. They are not trained as brigades to conduct combat operations, because that's not their mission in Afghanistan anymore,” Odierno said.

Odierno’s concerns underscored the budget problems the Army faces due to sequestration and other budget issues, including the prospect of a full year continuing resolution.

Both Odierno and Army secretary John McHugh sounded a pessimistic tone at the Army’s conference over the military's budget. 

They pointed out that the two-week government shutdown only complicated the Army’s attempts to deal with its budget woes, and said that training was further disrupted.

Army leaders urged Congress to provide some certainty — even if it comes with a smaller budget. 

“Since I've been the chief of staff of the Army, it's been nothing but budget uncertainty,” Odierno said. “No budgets, continuing resolutions, no planning, wasteful money, wasteful programs, because we can't predict what budget we're going to have as we move forward. So we've had great uncertainty for the last two-plus years.”

In his keynote address on Monday, McHugh said he could not promise that “better days lie ahead."

"In short, we're forced to rob Peter to pay Paul, and then Paul got furloughed,” McHugh said. “Let me put it very, very simply. This is no way to manage the greatest military the world has ever known. And it sure as hell is no way to manage to greatest country on the face of this Earth.”

The Army is preparing two budgets for 2015 in order to deal with the possibility that sequestration will remain the law. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed a desire to undo the sequester, but the two parties disagree about how to replace the automatic budget cuts.

Sequestration or not, the Army is drawing down its total force strength as the war in Afghanistan winds down.

The budget cuts may, however, determine how quickly the Army cuts its numbers. Odierno said plans to reduce the Army’s end strength to 490,000 by 2017 could be sped up to 2015 in order to balance the cuts to readiness and modernization.

McHugh took issue with suggestions that the Army was merely reverting its to pre-war budget levels of 2002 and 2003.

“This isn't 2002 or 2003, and the cost we pay for things have gone up significantly,” McHugh said. “I, for one, would argue that those kinds of comparisons are a fool's errand.”

The budget problems did not stop attendance at the conference, however. 

An AUSA spokesman said pre-registration topped 25,000 and was ahead of registration numbers in 2012.

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