By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - The Army's top general isn't worried about Fort Hood's fate, he said during a visit Friday - but its landscape will change with forthcoming defense budget cuts.
"Fort Hood'll be fine," Army Chief of Staff and former III Corps commander Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told a room full of soldiers and Central Texas-Fort Hood AUSA Chapter members at Club Hood. But, like the rest of the Army, it will see some "decrements."
"If you have five brigade combat teams, you'll probably go to four," Odierno continued. However, he said, the net loss of soldiers will be minimal, as the Army is adding a third maneuver battalion to each brigade and more engineers and other support troops.
But that's without sequestration - automatic budget cuts that threaten to chop an additional $500 billion off the Defense Department's budget, in addition to the $487 billion cut the department's already fielding spanning the next five years.
The process will go into effect in January, if Congress doesn't agree on a budget before then.
In addition to the current 80,000-soldier cut the Army has agreed to, sequestration would mean "devastating," arbitrary cuts to every line item in the service's budget and personnel cuts of up to 100,000 additional active-duty soldiers and reservists, said Odierno.
The general said he'd testified several times before Congress on the issue, and didn't believe it would happen.
But, he said during a news conference later in the day, "I learned a long time ago not to predict what I think Congress will do."
Odierno visited Fort Hood to attend an after-action review of III Corps' recent Warfighter Exercise, the first of its kind in a decade for the Army.
In addition to building on lessons learned during 10 years of counterinsurgency, the sophisticated, technology-driven war game also marked a return to training for full-spectrum ground operations.
"We kicked their butts," III Corps and Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr. said during the AUSA breakfast, referring to the Arianans - the fabricated, Caspian Sea-area enemy the corps fought during the exercise.
Odierno said III Corps exceeded performance expectations and was "setting the stage for us on what we think are some of the potential areas we have to consider as we develop our future force."
The battlefield of the future is highly complex, in part due to communications that move "at the speed of Twitter," said Odierno. Geographically, he said, the military is increasingly focused on Asia and Africa, with an eye still turned toward the Middle East.
Although some may think there's little place for the Army in Asia, Odierno said, seven of the world's 10 largest armies call the continent home.
Focus on home front
While the Army continues to think about operations abroad, focus will remain on the home front.
Family programs remain at full funding levels and the Army is enhancing programs that make separating soldiers more employment-ready, said the Army chief.
Suicide remains a serious issue for the Army and is "vexing" for those trying to resolve it. The Army is studying suicide data to identify patterns that will better help caregivers identify at-risk soldiers, "but it's very, difficult to discern what those are."
Odierno said his deputy, Gen. Lloyd Austin, will travel the country this summer to further explore suicide, meeting with commanders at different installations to "make sure we've done all the right feedback and that we've got all the right programs in place that will help us in our intent to reduce what I consider to be a very serious problem for the Army."
Ron Taylor, AUSA state president and a retired sergeant first class, said he was honored to host Odierno at the AUSA event and was lobbying Congress to prevent sequestration from happening on behalf of soldiers.
"We do what uniform personnel can't do," he said.
Despite the potential crisis, Taylor said he believed Fort Hood will only grow in the coming years. In addition to its great size and its unique units, including the 1st Cavalry Division and 3rd Cavalry Regiment, "You have the most supportive community in the world here."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.