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How do Army troop cuts affect our military effectiveness?

The U.S. Army formally announced a reduction of 40,000 soldiers and 17,000 civilian workers, due to budget cuts. This fall there could be another downsizing of 30,000 more troops if additional budget reductions go forward. Judy Woodruff talks to Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast about who is being cut and what it means for American military readiness.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now to the big personnel cuts announced today by the U.S. Army.

    It’s the latest in a series of downsizing moves as the Army winds down from two wars, and faces up to budget cuts. Army Brigadier General Randy George today formally announced a reduction of 40,000 soldiers.

  • BRIG. GEN. RANDY GEORGE, U.S. Army:

    The decision to make these reductions wasn’t easy and will affect almost every Army installation.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Army’s active-duty troop levels peaked during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As recently as 2012, the service had 570,000 soldiers. The number has since fallen to 490,000, and by 2017, the new cuts will bring the force down to 450,000.

    In addition, 17,000 civilian positions are being eliminated. General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, says he can accept this new level. But another 30,000 troops may be cut if additional budget reductions go forward this fall.

    At a Senate hearing today, Arizona Republican John McCain warned the budget process known as sequestration is driving the Army to ruin.

  • SEN. JOHN MCCAIN Chair, Committee on Armed Services:

    Unless we change course, eliminate sequestration, and return to strategy-driven defense budgets, I fear our military will confront depleted readiness, chronic modernization problems, and deteriorating morale.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, earlier this week blamed Congress for not allowing changes that would have reduced the need for cuts. The Marine commandant, General Joseph Dunford, nominated to replace him, today had his own dire prediction.

  • GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps:

    Quite honestly, the readiness of the joint force and modernization of the joint force will suffer what I would describe, and without exaggeration, as catastrophic, catastrophic consequences.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    A number of congressional delegations are expected to oppose the cuts announced today. But more liberal lawmakers have long favored paring the military in favor of domestic priorities.

    We take a closer look at these cuts with Nancy Youssef. She’s the senior national security correspondent for The Daily Beast.

    Nancy, good to have you with us again.

    Why is the Army making these cuts?

  • NANCY YOUSSEF, The Daily Beast:

    Well, the reason they give is budgetary pressures, because I know the budget proposed by Congress, the U.S. Army must come down from 490,000 to 475,000.

    What the Army did was take an additional step further, going with the president’s budget and say that they will cut it to 450,000 the following year. And so their argument is that it’s budgetary.

    But, frankly, one of the other arguments that they’re making is by presenting these numbers now and what it would look like, they’re trying to raise awareness in the communities in which these bases are sitting that these are the kinds of cuts that could be coming their way.

    And so part of it is budgetary and part of it is to sort of raise awareness to the threat to the U.S. Army if sequestration and other budgetary pressures keep sitting on top of the Army, if you will.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, you’re saying these may not all materialize?

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    Well, the 475,000 will materialize because that’s both in the congressional and president’s proposed budget. The 450,000 number that is being proposed the following year, that is not set in stone. That is a much more speculative figure, if you will.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So where would these both uniformed and civilian cuts come from? What skills? What kind of people are we talking about?

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    Well, the biggest bases that will be affected are Fort Hood, Joint Base Richardson.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Fort Hood is in Texas.

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    That’s right, Joint Base Richardson, in Alaska, Schofield Barracks, in Hawaii, and so those areas are infantry and brigade combat teams.

    And so that’s where about 10,000 of those cuts will come, just from those bases alone, and in addition to Fort Benning, and then another 17,000 civilians, which will go across the force. Headquarter brigades, 25 percent of those will be cut. The Army today also talked about cutting military police and other support personnel.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And Fort Benning being in Georgia.

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    In Georgia.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How does this affect the Army’s ability, the military’s ability to protect U.S. interests? We’re heard what General Dunford just said, nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs. What are the brass saying about how this affects their ability to do their job?

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    The Army says that if it goes below 450,000, that it puts the U.S. at significant risk.

    The problem is that they don’t spell out how that risk is different if the U.S. Army is at 490,000 vs. 450,000 vs. 420,000.

    And so that’s the challenge that they face. Now, that said, the numbers that are being put forth are the lowest figures that the Army has ever been at since 1940. On 9/11, for example, the U.S. had an end strength of 480,000 troops. And so these proposed numbers will put it well below those figures.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But you’re saying they’re not spelling out exactly what it could mean. You’re asking these questions, I’m assuming.

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    That’s right, because they have to answer what is the threat level if there’s 450,000 troops vs. 475,000 troops?

    And that’s a hard thing to answer, isn’t it, because they’re trying to prepare for several contingencies, as General Dunford spelled out today, threats from Russia, North Korea, China, the Islamic State. So how do you put in quantitative terms a very subjective list of threats, if you will?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Are they saying they are eventually going to answer that question or they don’t think it can be answered?

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    They will say it in very general terms because that’s all they can say, that the U.S. faces these kinds of threats, that when you have a lower force structure, that just puts the U.S. at risk because there are fewer people who are prepared should the United States face particularly an imminent threat.

    Realistically, they will probably depend more on the National Guard and Reserve to come up, so that the sort of Army that sits now is prepared for imminent threats, and should there be a long-term threat, the plan, from what we can tell, is to depend more on Guard and Reserve units to come in from after 90 days or 120 days of threat.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    As you just referenced and we heard from Senator John McCain, so much of this, what’s coming in the feature, depends on the so-called sequestration, these across-the-board cuts that happen if Congress and the White House can’t agree on the budget. Where does that stand right now?

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    Well, right now, what we’re waiting for is to hear of the sequestration that would happen after these proposed cuts.

    That means right now the proposal is to put the Army at an end strength of 450,000. Should sequestration go through after 2017, 2018, then the proposal is to cut an additional 30,000 troops.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Below the 450,000?

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    That’s exactly right, at 420,000, which would be remarkably low relative to previous end strength levels for the U.S. Army.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And hence we heard Senator McCain talking about depleted readiness, deteriorating morale and so on.

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    Right.

    And that Army talks about that too, because you have an entire U.S. Army now that is on pins and needles. Will I be cut from my job? Will I be forced out of my job? Will I be forced to move to another unit? There is a certain level of anxiety that comes with a constant threat of budgetary cuts.

    And this is something that the Army has been struggling with for several years now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, as you say, all this — this announcement puts everyone on notice.

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    That’s right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Nancy Youssef, we thank you.

  • NANCY YOUSSEF:

    Thank you.

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