NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited troops at Langley Air Force Base and Ft. Eustis Tuesday to discuss a topic that affects many Hampton Roads families — the defense budget.
Hagel’s visit came one day after he announced a proposal to cut the Army to its smallest size in about 75 years. The proposal would slash billions from our country’s defense budget.
At Ft. Eustis, which is home to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the secretary took about 30 minutes for his remarks and questions from soldiers and then allowed 30 more minutes to meet with soldiers and leaders of the organization responsible for training the Army’s future force.
During his late afternoon speech, Hagel began by explaining what was behind Monday’s announcements and why they are looking at budget cuts, again pointing to the draw down of the war in Afghanistan — the end of what has basically been 13 years of hostilities. He said there was no logic in maintaining the same level of force and equipment now that hostilities are ceasing.
Hagel also told the crowd less staff will allow more money for technological advancement.
“It’s been a slight worry in the back of my head, being that I’m new into the business,” said Private Jerqual Collins, who joined the Army in September. “He actually came and shed a lot of light about what’s actually going on. He gave me more understanding about what’s going to happen in the future.”
Near the end of the presentation, one soldier asked about the comparisons being made about cutting down army forces to levels lower than before WWII and what would happen if the U.S. became involved in another war.
“To try to compare what the Army looked like or the the structure in the United States of America in 1939 and 1940 to today, there is no comparison,” Hagel responded.
Hagel said the current Army has a higher level of soldiers, it is better trained, has more equipment and is more technologically advanced. Today, less people are needed to do certain jobs, and Hagel said the DoD can’t continue to maintain troop levels as they are now and still give the same level of training and benefits. He went as far as to say the budget cuts will keep the U.S. on the edge as the leading military power.
Many of the soldiers questions had to do with concerns over pay, benefits, retirement and how the budget cuts are going to affect soldiers and their families. Hagel told WAVY.com he didn’t take the cuts lightly and wanted to look Fort Eustis soldiers in the eye and let them know what it would mean for them.
“I want to thank you, thank your families for your sacrifices,” he said to the soldiers. ” … everything in that budget affects you. It affects your families. It affects your future.”
Hagel used the questions as an opportunity to address what he called “misunderstandings” about what the cuts will mean for pay, quality of life, and specifically the future of commissaries.
“There has been some misunderstanding, I think … by some that we are cutting pay — that is not what we are recommending,” Hagel said. “We’re recommending that we slow the growth of pay increases. There will be pay raises.”
Hagel said while there would be no pay cuts, they are considering reducing the rate of pay increase to somewhere between one percent and half a percent. He also said the DoD wants to minimize increases of TriCare co-payments.
“Commissaries, we’re not closing any commissaries,” Hagel said. “In fact, we’re exempting commissaries that are remote, in areas that don’t have any options, Targe, Wal-Mart … We are proposing that we take the subsidies away from the commissaries, but they still won’t have to pay rent or taxes.”
The secretary also announced that he is considering asking Congress to close some military bases, but didn’t say which ones.
“I’m happy where I’m at, and I’m happy with what the Army gives me,” said Sgt. Christian Perez. “We just keep trucking up from there.”
As for a timeline, the plan will be part of the 2015 budget submitted to President Obama.