Retired Army Lt. Gen. Roger Thompson on Tuesday told members of the Coastal Empire Chapter of the Association of the United States Army that budget cuts already are negatively affecting Army training.
During its second-quarter, general-membership meeting at the Liberty Performing Arts Center in Fleming, Thompson, vice president of AUSA’s national membership and meetings, told members and guests that budget cuts are limiting Army units to local training only.
He said training of combat divisions such as the 3rd Infantry Division consists of squad-, platoon-, company-, battalion-, brigade- and division-level training.
Brigade- and division-level training usually is conducted at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., or the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. However, unless a unit has been slated to deploy to Afghanistan, Thompson said units no longer have the funding to train at NTC. Most installations simply do not have the funding and capability for training above the company and battalion level, he said.
“During previous stops I’ve made at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas, (I’ve learned) they’re training essentially at platoon level — not company level, not battalion level, not brigade level and not division level,” Thompson said. “So what does this mean? It means the Army is totally unprepared if this continues.”
Thompson paraphrased political leaders who say soldiers have plenty of experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and, therefore, don’t need the higher-level training. Calling this level of training “very fragile” and “perishable,” he said military leaders here and across the Army are trying to protect higher-level training capabilities in the face of even more budget cuts.
“Your military is not in good shape as far as what has already been done with sequestration during fiscal year 2013,” he said. “AUSA has always spoken in favor of an end-strength of 600,000 to 700,000 active-duty soldiers. Today, you’re at 532,000, and it’s scheduled to go down to 490,000 ... It could go down to 430,000 if budget cuts continue.”
He pointed out guests — Mayors Jim Thomas of Hinesville and Mary Warnell of Pembroke, Georgia Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, Georgia Department of Corrections board member Wayne Dasher, Hinesville City Councilman David Anderson and retired Maj. Gen. James Donald, president of the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the AUSA — then reminded members that AUSA was formed by the Army 63 years ago as an association exclusively for the Army, including active duty, Reserve and National Guard.
Local AUSA chapter President Joe Ford added that AUSA was formed to be a voice for the Army and to support a strong military while supporting soldiers and their families. He said the local chapter has about 300 individual members and 30 corporate members.
Thompson began his 34-year military career as a field-artillery officer then logistician. He commanded at all levels through Army major commands, including the 3rd Infantry Division. His last assignment before retiring was director of the Army budget.
He pointed out that downsizing the active-duty Army inevitably will increase the number of veterans, noting the country already has a lot of unemployed veterans. Organizations like AUSA are becoming more important for veterans and active duty-soldiers, he said.
Thompson said the AUSA has 76,000 members, but noted only 25,000 of its current members are active duty. He concluded by talking about what local chapters can do to increase membership, which he said will strengthen the voice that advocates for soldiers.
To increase membership, he talked about using posters, bumper stickers, the Army Magazine, local chapter websites, social media and, especially, volunteers.
After he talked about the need for members to volunteer their time and talents, Williams offered “a couple hours” of his time for any upcoming membership drive the local chapter may schedule.
Thomas invited the local AUSA chapter to link up with the city government’s website and the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and to take part in public events to show the community what AUSA is all about.
For more information about AUSA, go to www.ausa.org or call 977-1077.