FORT JACKSON — The new commander of the Army’s largest training post said Tuesday he hopes to keep recruits focused on their combat training, rather than worrying about looming budget cuts or troop reductions.
Those are headaches the Army’s senior leaders have to worry about, said Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker, speaking with reporters just before assuming command at Fort Jackson, outside Columbia.
“Down at the soldier level, it’s our responsibility to make sure they don’t see that as an issue and that they can focus on training and doing their job, and that they have what they need to do that,” said the 49-year-old one-star general from Sacramento, Calif.
Fort Jackson puts more than 50,000 new soldiers through basic combat training every year and is the center of several top Army schools.
Becker comes to Jackson as a veteran of three deployments to Iraq; a posting in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf conflict; and assignments in Germany, Korea, Fort Lewis, Wash., Hawaii and the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
The general said the military is well aware that with the war winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan, such issues as budget cuts and forced furloughs might be on many people’s minds, and that only heightens the importance of leadership in tough times.
“It is our responsibility as leaders to make sure they are challenged, that they are trained and equipped,” Becker said of young soldiers.
A law enacted two years ago ordered the government to come up with $1.2 trillion in savings over a decade. The law included the threat of annual automatic cuts as a way of forcing lawmakers to reach a deal, but they have been unable to do so.
The Pentagon, as a result, is facing $500 billion in cuts over the next decade. For the 2014 budget year, that will mean a reduction of up to $54 billion from current spending totals.
The Army is planning to go from a wartime high of about 570,000 troops to 490,000 soldiers by 2017. Pentagon leaders have warned that if the automatic cuts continue, tens of thousands more could be slashed from the ranks.
Becker assumed command from Brig. Gen. Peggy Combs, who returns to her position as the Commandant of the United States Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Combs had been interim commander since Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts was relieved of command in July because of misconduct. Roberts had been suspended in May over charges of adultery and involvement in a physical altercation. He was removed after an investigation by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.
Asked about the problem of sexual assaults that also has dogged the military, Becker said it is something he’s already working on to ensure that both male and female recruits, as well as more senior soldiers, take the issue seriously and know “it is just not acceptable.”
“It degrades the mission, it impacts the entire unit, and to the victims, it is just absolutely unacceptable,” Becker said.
The general said he wants soldiers to know he intends to investigate cases and take action on them.