“Sequestration” is the buzzword in the Pentagon these days, and it applies to the deep cuts in America’s defense budget that could start Jan. 2.
Military leaders, defense contractors and lawmakers are attaching words such as “devastating” and “end-of-Earth scenario” to the automatic cuts, which will trim $50 billion each year for 10 years from the Department of Defense’s budget. The requested budget is $525.4 billion for fiscal year 2013, but $50 billion would be “sequestered” by the Treasury as the difference between the cap set in the Budget Control Act of 2011 and what is originally appropriated by Congress.
But for all the talk there’s still a level of uncertainty about how far the budget ax will fall in Washington and Fort Gordon.
If the cuts go through, “it will be catastrophic for the military, everyone expects that,” said Thom Tuckey, the executive director of CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon. But determining what will happen at the installation level is “near impossible right now.”
Fort Gordon garrison command echoed that opinion through spokesman Buz Yarnell, saying the exact impact remains unclear.
Some indication of what the future holds can be found by looking at past reductions in American forces, which typically follow after every major war.
“During wartime you spend whatever it takes to win,” said Hubert van Tuyll, a professor of history at Augusta State University. “But finances inevitably dictate that military spending will go down.”
The Army was already planning cuts over the next five years that would reduce 80,000 active-duty soldiers from its force. If the Budget Control Act of 2011 goes into effect, it could force cutting an extra 100,000 soldiers, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said May 17 at a Senate Caucus breakfast.
The additional cuts would affect both active duty and reserves and reduce the number of active-duty soldiers to between 400,000 and 425,000. At the breakfast, Odierno said sequestration represents a significant impact on modernization and “a template for hollowing out the force.”
Aside from defense concerns, experts fear the reductions could harm a tenuous economic recovery. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that partisan bickering between Democrats and Republicans could keep a compromise from emerging before the 2013 fiscal year begins.
“Not only must we avoid sequestration – in my judgment we will – but we must do it in time to avoid a severe weakening to this economy. That’s the greater challenge that we face,” Levin said.
In a statement to The Augusta Chronicle, U.S. Rep. John Barrow, a Democrat whose district includes Augusta, said the government cannot keep writing checks it can’t cash. “But sequestration isn’t the answer. It’s a blunt instrument that treats vital assets like Fort Gordon just the same as programs we don’t need and can’t afford,” he wrote.
Fort Gordon has about 10,000 soldiers and students on post. Including the other service branches and part-time military personnel boosts that number up to about 14,000 service members. Still, the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon places Fort Gordon’s annual economic impact on the area at about $2 billion annually.
If sequestration forces a smaller Army, fewer students will come through Fort Gordon for communications training.
It could also delay several multi-million dollar construction projects, such as new barracks for students.
But Fort Gordon also has several shields against sequestration, namely the protection of communication and intelligence networks that are gaining high priority at the Pentagon, said Tuckey. The National Security Agency cut the ribbon in February on its $270 million facility at Fort Gordon.
Exactly how those factors will play out remains unclear.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen with sequestration. That’s the party line from everybody,” Tuckey said.
Information from Stars and Stripes, Reuters and Bloomberg News was used in this report.