FORT JACKSON, S.C. (AP) — The Army's No. 2 general said Friday he's telling soldiers the country's budget strains means their ranks will be cut, but he is doing his best to ensure they will have what they need to do their jobs.
"We face some very tough decisions. Our budget is going to be cut," Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell said Friday he is telling soldiers. "You are going to be in a smaller Army, but it's still going to be the very best trained in the world."
Campbell spoke with The Associated Press at Fort Jackson, the Army's largest training installation, as he wrapped up a several-day tour of military installations in New Jersey, New York, Kentucky and South Carolina.
He said he is on the look-out for duplicative programs or support services that could be pulled under "umbrella" organizations to cut back on overhead.
"We really have to get where we can't be redundant," said Campbell, adding at another point, "We have to get rid of the programs that we can't afford."
The general didn't mention any programs specifically, but did offer a vote of confidence in the so-called "resiliency" training that has been going on at Fort Jackson for several years as part of the Army's anti-suicide programs. Fort Jackson trains about 50,000 soldiers annually, which translates into more than half of all the Army's incoming male soldiers and 80 percent of all incoming female soldiers.
This week in Washington, Defense Secretary Hagel laid out a worst-case scenario for the U.S. military if the Pentagon is forced to slash more than $50 billion from the upcoming 2014 budget and half a trillion over 10 years as a result of congressionally mandated cuts.
Hagel warned Congress that to achieve that amount of savings, the Pentagon might have to cut more than 100,000 additional soldiers from the Army, which is already planning to go from a wartime high of about 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers by 2017. The current plan to reduce the size of the Marine Corps to 182,000 from a high of about 205,000 could also be changed, cutting it to as few as 150,000 Marines. Hagel said the Air Force could lose as many as five combat air squadrons as well as a number of other bomber and cargo aircraft.
Hagel's remarks were the latest in a persistent Pentagon drumbeat about the dire effects of the budget cuts on national defense as Congress continues to wrangle over spending bills on Capitol Hill.
Asked about the effect of such comments on the Army, Campbell pointed out that the Army's plan for cuts to 490,000 largely will be achieved by attrition.
But if pressed to make further cuts if Congress can't get around its so-called "sequestration" cuts, further reductions may have to be found among the Army Reserve or National Guard.
"What we don't want to do is become a hollow force, where you have a lot of people and no equipment and no readiness," Campbell said.
He noted that the current reductions of combat brigades at Fort Bragg, N.C., and among combat brigades at a number of other Army installations will reduce the number of officers in headquarters staffs, and thereby achieve some savings.
But he said there is a level beyond which he knows the Army can't go.
"If you come down low, our risk goes up," Campbell said. "It's not in our DNA to say, 'We can't do it.' "
The general said it is necessary for the Army leadership, like himself, to point out that with fewer resources, there are missions the Army won't be able to take on.
"We've got to point it out. We can't do it," Campbell said., adding, "Otherwise, we put our soldiers in harm's way, and they are not going to be trained, and we will kill people."
Susanne M. Schafer can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/susannemarieap