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Dempsey: 'There will be changes in family support programs'

Jul. 9, 2013 - 10:27AM   |  
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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. — — Budget cuts will almost certainly affect family support programs, defense officials said July 8, so the military community should speak up and advocate for the programs they value most.

Changes will come to the programs as officials scrutinize the entire Defense Department budget for potential cuts, “but we’re not going to do this from Washington with the famous 6,000-mile screwdriver,” said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Speaking to about 750 attendees at the Military Child Education Coalition national training seminar, Dempsey was clear that officials have made no decisions yet about what cuts will be made in this time of shrinking resources.

“We’re not exactly sure how deeply those resources will be reduced,” he said, when he and his wife, Deanie, spoke during a town-hall type forum with educators, military spouses, child and youth professionals, members of nonprofit organizations, advocates and others.

“Yes, there will be changes in family support programs,” he said, adding that he’s reaching out to the military community for input about the most valued programs. Decisions about those priorities are still to come.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell, speaking later in the day, encouraged Army families to be advocates at their installations for the programs they think are important.

Dempsey noted that in the past 10 years, “when resources were relatively unconstrained,” a lot of programs grew at individual posts, camps and stations, including some that were DoD-wide, that will have to be either “dialed back or eliminated.”

“But we’re not going to do this with a chain saw,” he said. “We’re going to do it in a way that meets the needs of the force.”

Leaders have to first consider two “sacred responsibilities,” he said: to defend the nation with a balanced force with the right compensation, the right training and leadership; and to never send young men or women into harm’s way without proper training, equipment and leadership.

It was clear the coming cuts are a concern for those who attended. Asked about the viability of Defense Department schools given the budget situation and shifting of forces, Dempsey said that if changes are to be made — for example in the number of schools or commissaries — “we would certainly do it in a way where we met the greatest need first,” and then prioritize from there.

As an example, he said a case could be made that having a commissary at comparatively remote Minot Air Force Base, N.D., is more important than having one at Fort Myer, Va., in the densely populated Washington, D.C., metro region.

“If you use Fort Myer, don’t panic,” Dempsey said, emphasizing that analyses are still under way.

Still, he said, “Is it likely we will scrutinize all of those systems we’ve taken for granted all these years? The answer is: absolutely.”

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