McHugh: Cuts will help Army priorities

Army Secretary John McHugh Thursday said the Army is "excited" about Defense Secretary Robert Gates' order for the services to find $2 billion in savings in their fiscal 2012 budget request.

While McHugh said "we have not been ordered to cut anything," he said Gates' plan requires the Army to "focus on what is generically called overhead," and would allow it to keep the savings and "apply it to other, greater needs."

That ability to reapply the money saved to higher priorities "is what makes the secretary's plan unique and makes it far more likely to succeed" than past efforts to cut defense spending, he said in response to a question.

Gates has instructed each of the three military departments to cut $2 billion and the other defense agencies $1 billion in low-priority programs from their next budgets in an effort to achieve a total of $100 billion in savings over five years.

Explaining the proposal last week, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said the idea was not to cut the total defense budget, but to allow spending on the operating forces and essential modernization to go up faster than the 1 percent real growth expected in future budgets.

Speaking to an Association of the U.S. Army breakfast, McHugh said he and Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, have not decided yet whether to accept the 7,000 additional soldiers that Congress offered in the enacted fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill. He said they had met with Gates on the issue last week and are scheduling another meeting soon to give him their answer.

In his speech, McHugh said the Army needed to rebuild what he called the "generating force," the organizations that train and educate future leaders. During nine years of overseas conflict, the Army's operating force saw a boost of 63,300 personnel, while the generating force was cut by 29,700, he said.

That has hurt the Army's ability to produce the adaptive leaders he said were needed to confront the current creative and adaptive enemy.

McHugh said some of the $2 billion saved would be applied to training and education, "which has begun to fray."

He also said the Army still was struggling to reduce the strain on what he called "a very stressed force" after nine years of war. McHugh cited high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, family conflicts and suicides, and expressed hope that the drawdown in Iraq would allow the Army to increase the time soldiers can stay at home between deployments.

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