Military leaders have already repeatedly warned Congress that looming spending cuts could jeopardize weapons buying, force readiness, battlefield capabilities and worldwide military dominance.

And thus far, that hasn't really worked.

So on Wednesday, in their latest invite to Capitol Hill to talk about the dangers of sequestration cuts, the Joint Chiefs emphasized another potential casualty if lawmakers don't fix the budget issue in coming months: troops' trust.

"As they see we're not going to invest in them, [our soldiers] begin to lose faith," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. "Sometimes we take for granted the level of ability of our people, and the level of investment we've made in their training, which is central to everything we do. With sequestration, we are going to have to reduce that for sure."

All four service leaders said they expect to see major retention and recruiting problems in coming years if the sequestration cuts scheduled to start this fall go into effect.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh hinted that military pilots could be poached by private airlines as their training flight hours are reduced.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert predicted fewer ships, submarines and interested sailors.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford said leaders are already seeing an erosion of trust among troops, wondering if "they'll be deployed without proper training and equipment."

Senators called Wednesday's testimony eye-opening, alarming and infuriating. They also offered no indication they're any closer to finding a solution.

Under rules passed by Congress in 2011, defense spending is scheduled to be slashed by about $40 billion in fiscal 2016 unless lawmakers can amend the 3-year-old Budget Control Act.

Congress managed to pass a temporary fix to the decade-long mandatory spending trims last year, but not for the next seven federal budget cycles.

Conservatives are hopeful that the new Republican-controlled Senate will be able to force a change through the gridlocked legislature. But Democrats have been unwilling to accept cuts to non-defense programs without some new revenues, and GOP leaders have dismissed any alternative so far that has included new taxes.

Both sides have also fought against members who say the military needs dramatic funding decreases following the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and question the dire predictions of Pentagon leaders.

At Wednesday's hearing, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said warnings about the severe damage cuts would bring to national defense "have become frustratingly familiar" after three years of debate on the issue.

"We have heard all of this from our top military commanders before, yet there are still those that say, 'Never fear. The sky didn't fall under sequestration,'" he said. "What a tragically low standard for evaluating the wisdom of government policy."

Both he and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, have said they'll spend the next few months simultaneously reviewing the Pentagon's fiscal 2016 budget plans and educating new Hill members about the dangers of sequestration, in the hopes of finding a workable compromise.

McCain blamed the lack of a solution already on "political gridlock" and said now is the time to "put an end to this senseless policy."

But that's a call he has repeated many times over the last three years. Like the Joint Chiefs' repeated pleas, so far there has been little response.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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