The Army has no choice but to look at sequestration as a chance to make the spending cuts now that were inevitably coming later, retired Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., the former Army chief of Staff, said Thursday.
"It's an opportunity to force ourselves to look hard at ourselves and downsize," Casey said of the automatic spending cuts expected to go into effect on Friday.
"It's a good opportunity to drive ourselves to be more efficient" in the spending of taxpayer dollars compared to the way the military has spent in the years of ballooning Defense Department budgets after 9/11, Casey said on his first visit to the Pentagon since stepping down as chief of Staff in 2011.
Long before the threat of sequester, plans were underway to cut personnel and resources for the Army as the Iraq War ended and the war in Afghanistan was winding down, Casey said.
"We have to take a step back and ask ourselves – what kind of Army do we need for the rest of the 21st Century?" he said.
Casey made his remarks on sequestration in a speech on leadership sponsored by the Pentagon chaplains after he was asked a question by a member of the crowd. Current Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has said that the $18 billion in cuts this year for the Army under sequestration would eventually lead to a "hollow force" unable to meet the nation's security needs.
But Casey said "we're done with Iraq and we're moving forward here" into a new era in which Army leaders will be challenged to make the force more agile in order to meet small-scale threats from terror groups and rogue states.
"We need to get smaller," Casey said, which will mean that "we've got to reduce people costs" both on the uniformed and civilian side of the Army workforce, Casey said.
Casey, whose 41 years of service included heading the coalition of more than 30 nations in the Multi-National Force-Iraq from June 2004 to February 2007, said that as chief of staff he constantly had to deal with the unrealistic requests of commanders who wanted "the best of everything all the time" in the way of equipment.
"I thought everything was a bit overstated" in the requests from subordinates, Casey said. In the new climate of "constrained resources," Casey said, "the best of everything all the time is not going to get us where we want to go."
-- Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story was adapted following a discussion with retired Gen. George Casey about the context of the comments he made. In a conversation following his speech, Casey emphasized the severe challenges that sequestration poses for the Army, especially the cuts the service must make by the end of the fiscal year.