The Bayonet

Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013

Corps commander: Sequestration bites into readiness

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WASHINGTON — Strapped for operating funds due to sequestration, yet charged with providing ready forces to support the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, the I Corps commander said he is channeling the resources he has where it matters most: into training junior troops and developing future leaders.

Sequestration has hit I Corps “pretty significantly,” Army Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown told American Forces Press Service during a telephone interview Dec. 10.

The impact on readiness has been immediate, he noted. All 14 Army brigades at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., maintained the top readiness level for more than a decade to support regular combat rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Now there are only two,” Brown said. “The rest are at the lowest readiness level” — referred to as “C4” on the Department of Defense Readiness Reporting System scale. “That was all they were funded for.”

The deep budget cuts mandated by sequestration have slashed many of the elements that factor into readiness: education and training and equipment maintenance, among them.

“We don’t have the money for the full maintenance we need,” Brown said. “We don’t have the money to run the full training and ranges we need.”

Like a car that doesn’t get its scheduled oil changes and other maintenance, the cost typically ends up higher in the end, he said. “You can piece it together, but eventually it is going to be a big bill,” he said. “That really bothers me.”

Meanwhile, Brown said, the last thing he wants is having troops sitting around bored and wondering why they joined the Army. “That is my No. 1 worry and what keeps me up at night: keeping them motivated and trained,” he said.

Despite budget challenges, he said, he’s doing everything in his power to provide the best possible training and leadership development for his troops.

“We have tremendous leaders who are trained and developed to be agile and adaptive. They can overcome anything,” he said. “So leader development remains our No. 1 priority. We have found ways to do that cheaper and are getting after that like crazy.”

I Corps is maximizing simulation to provide lower-cost “virtual” training experiences, particularly for battalion, brigade, division and corps-level staff members. “They are doing almost all simulation, which is about as cheap as I can do things to keep them trained,” Brown said.

“Whatever money I have is going to the lowest level,” he said. “The squad, the platoon and company (levels) get out there and train. They may be required at some points to park their vehicles and walk, but they are still training hard.

“It may not be as good as it used to be, but they are still training,” he said. “And that is my No. 1 focus.”

Because the Army has identified I Corps to be regionally aligned toward the Asia-Pacific to support the U.S. rebalance there, Brown’s exercise program has continued relatively unaffected.

“We are fortunate in that case,” he said, noting that other combatant commands have had to downsize or cancel military exercises due to sequestration.

Getting the opportunity to exercise with allies and partners in the region is a tremendous troop motivator, the general said. “They are very excited. … They joined the Army to go and see the world, work with other cultures and learn from others,” he said. “So it is neat to see that. They are very, very excited.”

Even so, I Corps is taking pains to keep the cost of its exercises as low as possible. For the bilateral Yama Sakura exercise underway in Japan, for example, only 1,000 of the 1,500 U.S. participants actually deployed to Japan. The others reported to simulation centers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and in Hawaii and South Korea, using simulators and video-teleconferencing to replicate the real, on-the-ground experience.

The impact of sequestration goes beyond the actual force to include those who support them, Brown said. He noted, for example, civilian staff losses at that Madigan Army Medical Center, which serves the Joint Base Lewis-McChord community.

“This is a world-class facility,” which employs about 3,000 civilian employees, he said. “But a lot of those civilians were fed up with the government shutdown and sequestration and quit to go to civilian hospitals, where they don’t have to worry about being furloughed.”

Sequestration has had other impacts at the installation. Among them, it sidelined plans the Army and Air Force Exchange Service was making to build a new shopping complex and has limited base maintenance for all but the most essential projects. “So it has been a huge impact, all around,” Brown said.

Despite the challenges, “we are making it work,” he said. “But I have to tell you, this is the toughest I have seen it in 32 years (of military service).”

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