Secretary of Defense discusses budget cuts, changing benefits at Fort Bliss town hall
January 17, 2012
"This deficit problem that this country is facing is serious and is also a threat to our national security; and it has to be confronted," said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in a Town Hall meeting with 500 Fort Bliss Soldiers Thursday.
The visit came approximately one week after the announcement there will be budget cuts resulting in a reduction in force in order to save nearly $490 billion over the next ten years.
A sequester with an effective date of January 2013 will ax forces by 20 percent in every area if the congressional committee fails to do its job and come up with a plan in time. In this event there could be a "doubling of cuts," a disastrous situation, said the defense secretary.
Concluding previous wars, similar cuts were made that "hollowed out" the military and weakened the force, he said.
"We cannot make that same mistake, particularly at a time when we face a series of threats that are still out there," said Panetta. "You are part of the strongest military power in the world and we have to maintain that strength."
Panetta proposed a strategy to design a military force for the United States that meets the needs of the future and that confronts all of the challenges and issues that are out there. One key element is to make a lean, more "agile" military capable of adapting and deploying quickly. He said the smaller force will be technologically advanced and fast moving.
Other elements are to focus on the Pacific, keeping a watchful eye on Iran and North Korea, while retaining a physical presence in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Still, the military needs to have the capability to confront and defeat more than one enemy at a time. This means maintaining strong Reserves and National Guard components, said Panetta.
The cuts will affect military retirement benefits, an area Panetta called a "costly side of compensation." Changes were not specified, but he made clear there will be no reform that affects those who are currently serving, whether military or Department of Defense civilian. He also quashed any rumors of changing the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill.
"We will grandfather all retirement benefits to those that are serving today. We made a promise to you on retirement; we're going to stick with it," said Panetta. "We cannot break faith with those that have served in terms of the commitment we've made with you."
Panetta said there is a team effort going on at the Pentagon to make this a seamless transition.