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Army Plans to Cut 40,000 Soldiers and Shrink Force to 450,000 by 2017

A force reduction plan is in place to cut 40,000 troops and shrink the size of the Army to 450,000 by 2017 under current budget constraints, the Army confirmed Tuesday.

The plan, first reported by USA Today, also calls for cutting 17,000 from the Army's civilian work force. Cynthia Smith, an Army spokeswoman, said there was "nothing new" in the plan and noted that the possible reductions were previously outlined in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and others have warned repeatedly in congressional testimony that the Army could go down to 450,000, or even 420,000, unless the cost-cutting limitations of the sequestration budget process were lifted.

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The Army built up to a strength of about 570,000 during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but came down to the current troop strength of about 490,00 as troops were withdrawn.

According to USA Today, part of the force reduction plan would include shrinking the size of brigades at Fort Benning, Georgia, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska from 4,000 soldiers to battalion task forces of 1,050 soldiers.

In February 2014, Hagel announced that to save money under the restrictions of the 2011 Budget Control Act passed by Congress, the Defense Department was planning to shrink the Army to 440,000 or 450,000 troops by 2019. Without some relief from the restrictions by Congress, the Army could be forced to go down to 420,000 troops by 2019, Hagel said at the time.

The sequester process figured in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on Tuesday, and also in remarks by President Obama on Monday after a rare visit to the Pentagon.

Carter testified that he supported Obama's threat to veto the proposed National Defense Authorization Act, which now has funding increases requested by the Pentagon listed in the category for Overseas Contingency Operations rather than the base budget.

Carter said, "I very much hope a way can be found to come together" to lift sequestration "and get beyond the gridlock we have" on the military budget.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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