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Hagel Takes Over a Pentagon on the Edge

But with sequestration set to take effect Friday, Obama's schedule tomorrow starts with meetings with senior advisers -- including Hagel -- followed by the unveiling of the Rosa Parks statue at the Capitol and evening remarks at the Business Council dinner in Washington.

"Right now the Army has almost 60,000 people deployed in Afghanistan and another 22,000 deployed in other places within the Middle East, Kosovo and other places, and more than 91,000 soldiers foreign-stationed across the globe," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told a House Appropriations defense subcommittee today.

"It is these very soldiers who will suffer the most under these budgetary cuts. We simply do not know when we'll be asked to deploy soldiers to fight again, but history is very clear on this subject: We will ask them to deploy."

Odierno said the combination of sequestration, the continuing resolution and a shortfall in overseas contingency operations funds for Afghanistan has led to an $18 billion shortfall for his branch's operation and maintenance accounts this year alone, in addition to $6 billion cut from support programs.

"We will curtail training for 80 percent of our ground forces. This will impact a unit's basic war-fighting skills, induce shortfalls across critical specialties, including aviation, intelligence, engineering, and even our ability to recruit new soldiers into the army," he said.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Naval Operations, warned that the cuts would have an "irreversible and debilitating impact" on the Navy.

"We will have inadequate surge capacity at the appropriate readiness level where it matters, and when it matters," he told the committee.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos noted that the five service chiefs at the witness table collectively represent more than 180 years of military service.

"Speaking today principally as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sequestration, by its magnitude, its timing, and its methodology will have a devastating impact on our nation's readiness, both short term and long term," Amos warned. "…First, risk to our national strategy. Second, risk to our forces. Third, risk to our people. And lastly, risk to the United States of America."

"A fiscally driven lapse in American leadership in foreign engagement will create a void in which old threats will be left unaddressed, and new security challenges will, no doubt, find room to grow."

Pentagon press secretary George Little opened today's briefing by addressing "one of the narratives" he'd seen about sequestration.

"There seems to be a belief in some quarters that when it comes to negative impact that sequester will have on our national defense and military readiness, the Department of Defense is crying wolf. Nothing could be further from the truth," Little said. "What you've heard from DoD leaders over the past few weeks is not hype. It's the blunt truth. It isn't exaggeration. It's a clear-eyed assessment of what would happen to the department."

Obama has vowed to exempt military personnel funding from sequestration, but soldiers will actually not be protected. By law, sequestration applies to all of the Defense Department budget, including wartime spending  -- so units won't have the funds to back up operations.

"Across DoD, we will be short more than 20 percent of total requirements for operating funds, and the percentage will be closer to 40 percent for the United States Army," Little said.