Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Ronald Reagan National Defense Forum on Saturday that the Army has “just two of the 43 active-duty brigade combat teams fully ready and available to execute a major combat operation.”

The Reagan Library event brought together Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), and more “to address the health of our national defense and stimulate a discussion that promotes policies that strengthen the US military in the future.” The steering committee behind the event ranged from former Secretary of State George Schultz to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Hagel told the crowd that “so much of what I learned about public service, I learned from example that Ronald Reagan gave us all.”

“Though his individual accomplishments were historic, and he will be remembered for many important reasons, probably none more important than renewing the American spirit and calling for Americans to believe in themselves again and for American leadership at a defining time in the world,” he said. “The United States is, once again, at an important time in history, an inflection point that again demands American leadership, supported by a strong economy, strong diplomacy, and a strong national defense, which has been the focus, as we know so well, and appropriately so, been the focus of this conference today.”

Hagel noted that “the world is growing more complex, volatile and unpredictable than what our nation faced just even 10 years ago,” and “one immediate challenge” faced by the Pentagon is “the steep, abrupt and deep spending cuts that have been imposed under sequestration.”

“While our people today are strong and resilient after 12 years of war, they are under tremendous stress from years of repeated deployments, and so are the institutions that support them, train them, and equip them. As you all know, the department is currently facing sequester-level cuts on the order of $500 billion over the next 10 years. This is in addition – in addition – to the 10-year $487 billion reduction in DoD’s budget that is already underway. That means we are looking at nearly $1 trillion in DoD cuts over this 10-year period, unless there is a new budget agreement,” he said.

“These cuts are too steep, too deep, too abrupt.  DoD took a $37 billion sequester cut during fiscal year 2013.  And we are looking at having to absorb an additional $52 billion sequester cut this fiscal year.  And we are currently operating with no budget, but rather a continuing resolution. This is an irresponsible way to govern, and it forces the department into a very bad set of choices.”

Hagel added that in slashing readiness, “the military services have justifiably protected the training and equipping of deploying forces.”

“Consider that since sequestration began, just a couple of examples. The Navy’s average global presence is now down more than 10 percent, with particularly sharp reductions in regions like South America. The Army has had to cancel final training rotations for seven brigade combat teams. That’s more than 15 percent of the entire force, and it now has just two of the 43 active-duty brigade combat teams fully ready and available to execute a major combat operation. Air Force units lost 25 percent of the annual training events that keep them qualified for their assigned missions, and Marine Corps units not going to Afghanistan are getting 30 percent less funding just as the service is facing more demands for more embassy security and more Marines around the world,” he continued.

“In prioritizing readiness, we will have to pursue savings in every area across the department, not only by paring back overhead and infrastructure, but by reforming personnel and compensation policy, a very difficult issue.  This may be our most difficult challenge, but without serious attempts to achieve significant savings in this area, which consumes roughly half of the DoD budget and is increasing every year, we risk becoming an unbalanced force, one that is well-compensated, but poorly trained and equipped, with limited readiness and capability. That is not the military that our men and women signed up to be part of,” Hagel added.

“They signed up to be a part of a team that trains, deploys and protects their country.  We need to give them the opportunities and the resources they require to successfully accomplish the mission.  We must not revisit the mistakes of the 1970s.”