Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday that the Pentagon was pushing to develop more common personal gear and ground vehicles for all the services to save money in the new era of tight budgets.
In taking questions at Fort Bragg, N.C., Hagel did not get into specifics on standard issue gear, but he lined up with the general statement of an enlisted soldier that the services had gotten away from using the same equipment and ground vehicles since 9/11.
When asked if he agreed that standard issue was preferred name, Hagel said "Yes. First, we're being forced to" by the $500 billion in defense spending cuts over 10 years now underway in the sequestration process.
"We're going to be forced to change things," Hagel said. "The fact is every program in the Defense Department is accountable. We're going to be changing business about how we do a lot of things."
The soldier who asked the question said he had been serving for 13 years and he had seen the military change in that time from a period when "the force branches jointly developed and fielded" the same gear. "Very little" of what the four services now use was common, the soldier said.
Only last month, Hagel was less certain about commonality for camouflage uniforms when asked about it by a Navy petty officer during a town hall at Offutt Air Force Base in his home state of Nebraska.
"Quite frankly, I'm aware of the bill," Hagel said of proposed legislation in the House to come up with a single camouflage pattern, but "I haven't asked any of our (service) chiefs what they think."
At Fort Bragg, the first stop on Hagel's three-day trip to southern East Coast military bases, five of the six questions directed to Hagel during the town hall dealt with the impacts of sequester and furloughs.
The wife of a soldier was concerned that teacher furloughs might affect the accreditation of base schools.
"What's going to be done for our children?" she asked. Hagel said that standards and accreditation were being "exempted from any cuts."
A soldier said that "some of the (military) services were in better fiscal condition than others." He asked why they weren't able to be exempted from furloughs.
Hagel said he had wrestled with that issue, but decided to come down on the side that "we're all in this together."
"I want us to come at this -- not as different services, or commands, or different bases," Hagel said.
Ultimately, "I didn't think it would be fair," Hagel said if the impacts of sequester were felt by some services and not by others. "Everyone had to come into this and go out together."
In his opening remarks, Hagel said the Defense Department was going through a "time of uncertainty" brought on by the budget contraints which he likened to the cutbacks after Vietnam.
"This uncertainty is casting a very dark cloud over our institution," Hagel told the civilians and soldiers at Fort Bragg.