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Pentagon: Half of stateside Marine units at unacceptable readiness levels

Mar. 6, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Lima Company conducts field training
Marines conduct a field exercise at Camp Pendleton, Calif. The Defense Department's fiscal year 2015 budget request, released Tuesday, shows that many stateside Marine Corps units are lacking the personnel, equipment and/or training required to maintain acceptable readiness levels. (Lance Cpl. Ryan Carpenter/Marine Corps)
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Only half of non-deployed Marine units were at an acceptable level of readiness last September due to the long-term budget cuts known as sequestration, the Pentagon announced this week.

This revelation was bundled into the Defense Department’s budget request for next fiscal year, released Tuesday morning. When it took effect last year, sequestration triggered $500 billion worth of cuts to the defense budget to be implemented over a decade. Marine officials have said the cuts, if they remain in place, will require Marines to dip to a “minimum acceptable” force of 175,000 by 2017; but the new information shows sequestration has had a much more immediate impact.

The data comes from the Marine Corps’ Defense Readiness Reporting System, said Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Eric Flanagan. The system, established as a concept across the Defense Department at the turn of the century and enhanced with new requirements for the Marine Corps in 2010, collects data on unit resources, training and preparation, which is then reported to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Flanagan did not specify what the units at unacceptable readiness levels were lacking.

“In total, they were missing some form of personnel, equipment and/or training,” he said via email.

Units slated to deploy are still receiving the most resources for readiness, Flanagan said. This is in accordance with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos’ testimony before the House Armed Services Committee last September, when he told the panel the Corps was realigning funds from long-term priorities to maintain short-term readiness of those deployed to combat zones.

Still, Amos said then, the Corps’ force-in-readiness mandate means it can’t afford to have any troops lagging.

“‘Tiered readiness’ amongst non-deployed Marine units is unacceptable,” he said. “Over time, tiered readiness creates a hollow force. Degradation in training, equipment and manning underpin shallow, unsustainable combat-ready forces.”

The Marine Corps could get a boost through the $26 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative built into the president’s budget for next fiscal year, which includes $100 million earmarked for Marine Corps “infrastructure readiness” and another $100 million to increase Marine Corps field logistics support.

Though the Marine Corps’ topline budget request, at $22.8 billion, is $1.4 billion less than for the previous fiscal year, Flanagan said the proposal would keep the Corps “on track” with planned maintenance and training affected by sequestration.

But the OGS initiative faces opposition in Congress, and Flanagan emphasized that the Pentagon’s budget request has not yet been approved by Congress.

If sequestration continues, he said, the Marine Corps will have to scrap long-term readiness projects, such as maintenance and sustainment of equipment returning from combat zones. Even the readiness of some deploying units could take a hit, he said.

“For forces not deploying, the fuel, ammunition and other support necessary for training will be reduced, precluding our ability to provide fully trained individuals and ready units to meet emerging crises — ultimately impacting even amphibious ready groups and Marine expeditionary units,” Flanagan said.

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