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Dempsey: Sequestration Not Yet a National Security Threat

By Claudette Roulo
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Sequestration will have no effect on the drawdown in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.

“[Sequestration] is an avalanche, not a light switch,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said in a round-table discussion with members of the press traveling with him on his trip to Afghanistan.

The avalanche started March 1, he said, and is building momentum. “We’re consuming readiness without building it, because we are taking the money that we would normally have used to build readiness of units that might deploy a year from now and we’ve had to apply it into our wartime operations,” Dempsey said. Additionally, the chairman said, the department is supporting commitments on the Korean Peninsula and the Persian Gulf.

“When you fence that off and fully fund it -- and you have to fence it off, we’ve got young men and women out there in harm’s way and they will always be fully funded -- when you do that, though, the risk you take begins to accrue,” Dempsey said.

By 2014 the department will face medium-term problems in maintaining readiness, he said. “The problems we’ve got are multiplying and will multiply over time,” Dempsey added.

“We will always do what we have to do to protect the nation and its interests,” the chairman said. For example, he continued, the theater air defense system recently placed in Guam was costly, “but it never crossed our mind not to do it because we wanted to save the money.”

“Money is not a factor when our national interests are threatened,” he said, “but readiness is something that has to be sustained over time.” The cost of requalifying certain service members, like pilots, due to interruptions to training can actually cost more than the training itself would have, the chairman noted.

“The one thing that I would never do -- and I know [Defense] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel feels the same way -- is we’re never going to deploy a service man or woman who’s not ready to deploy,” he said.

“Sequestration is not a risk to our national security at present,” the chairman said. “ … But the uncertainty does make us less efficient [and] it sends a very negative message to our men and women who serve.”

The department will get through the readiness challenge, he said, but the next challenge could be retention. Service members won’t stay in the military if they can’t do their jobs, the chairman said.