Despite mounting budget pressure that could slash $17 billion from the service’s 2013 budget — and long-term funding cuts already programmed into future year funding — the U.S. Army is working to move its Rapid Equipping Force (REF) into the base budget beginning in 2015, according to REF director Col. Pete Newell.
Created in 2002 to help the Army quickly acquire and ship new equipment to soldiers fighting in Afghanistan (and then Iraq), the shop has always been funded through the yearly Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, with a slice of funding coming from elements of the base budget.
With the OCO account shrinking, the REF “is in the midst of a fairly significant redesign” Newell said, as the Army begins to expand its focus from Afghanistan to places like Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Rim.
Speaking after at an event announcing REF’s partnership with Local Motors, a company that specializes in bringing the latest technologies to the auto industry on Jan. 31, Newell said that since he works primarily with funds obligated for the war effort, he doesn’t expect too much fallout from sequestration and the possibility that Congress will extend the continuing resolution (CR) for the remainder of the fiscal year.
But he doesn’t expect to be totally immune.
“There are always issues when you operate under a continuing resolution” he said, adding that as the Army sorts through cash flow issues caused by both sequester and the CR, it is becoming more difficult to ask the Army for urgent funds. He stressed, however, that budget issues haven’t caused any delay in getting equipment to Afghanistan.
“If I have a money problem that’s going to impact delivery [to Afghanistan], my phone calls go straight to the Army chief of staff, personally. They don’t allow those types of things to cause issues.”
Given these financial unknowns, Newell said he was confident that his office is “the number one priority for the chief and the vice chief of staff of the institutional Army, so they’re going to make REF a permanent part of the Army, and our funding will go from primarily OCO funding to base funding.”
As part of the expanding global reach of his organization, Newell said that a team from REF recently spent two weeks with Special Operations forces in Africa “looking at issues they have,” and will deliver their recommendations to him when they return to the U.S. in the coming weeks.
He is also visiting the Pacific Command in early February to speak with leaders there and he said that his shop has already worked with the European Command in Turkey, with the Southern Command’s Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras, and is working with 8th Army and 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea.
Significantly, Newell added that REF has also been directed to support the Army’s new Regionally Aligned Brigade concept, and he has had contacts with 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, which will be the first brigade to be assigned to Africa in 2014.
The goal, he said, is for REF to “become part of the psyche of deploying commanders” so that they reach out to his office before deploying so the two can work together to find new solutions to the particular problems that soldiers in the field may face.
“If we do this right and create this community, there will be soldiers in every unit that we have found and identified” that can be the point man for the unit’s rapid equipping needs.