Pentagon cuts have military families on high alert

For Pamela Willoughby, word of the Pentagon's plan to shrink the U.S. Army to its smallest size in decades felt like a kick in the stomach.

The 24-year-old mother of two and wife of a Navy sailor said making ends meet while her husband is deployed is already tough. But if the Department of Defense sends him out onto the struggling job market, things could get even harder.


"I'm nervous about affording things like groceries, housing, utilities, child care and gas," Willoughby, of Mayport, Fla., said. "I would literally be stuck taking a bike back and forth to work because of the price of gas alone.

"We do get benefits with health care, but we don’t get as many benefits as people think," she added.

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The Willoughbys are like many military families around the country, feeling the pinch of cuts and the threat of being laid off, all while acutely aware of the struggling civilian economy.

"Our concern is that at some point in the near future, we're not going to be in the military anymore," said 29-year-old Amy Bushatz, who is stationed along with her husband, an active-duty Army captain, at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

Bushatz, who has two young children, said the family has "no plan" in place should her husband, 30-year-old Luke Bushatz, lose his job as a result of the proposed cuts, which have yet to be passed through Congress.

"There are a lot of people in the military who joined to make it a career," she told "We understand that there needs to be cuts, but please don’t forget there are people's livelihoods behind all of these proposals. We're not okay with cuts that feel arbitrary and cuts that break promises that were made when we joined."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday proposed shrinking the Army to its smallest size in 74 years, closing bases and reshaping forces to confront a "more volatile, more unpredictable" world with a more nimble military.

Jacey Eckhart, director of spouse and family programs for, said the overarching worry among families is that, "their soldier is going to be out of a job."

Eckhart, of Herndon, Va., who is an active-duty spouse and mother of a soldier, called the proposed military cuts announced Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, "shocking changes."

"The second biggest concern is the commissary," she said. "This proposal is calling for a $1 billion reduction."

"Many of our families live on bases in rural areas and they depend on the commissaries," Eckhart told "The commissary represents a 30 percent savings to our military families. And in addition to commissary cuts, there are proposed cuts to the housing allowance, which is making families worry about how they'll make ends meet."

Hagel announced Monday that the Army had already been preparing to shrink to 490,000 active-duty members, from a wartime peak of 570,000. Hagel said he is proposing to cut it further to between 440,000 and 450,000 -- making it the smallest since just before the U.S. entered World War II.

Those proposed cuts, which have yet to make it through Congress, will likely include recommendations to limit military pay raises, increase fees for health-care benefits, and offer less generous housing allowances.

According to Hagel, the nation can afford a smaller military so long as it retains a technological edge and the agility to respond on short notice to crises anywhere on the globe. He said the priorities he outlined reflect a consensus view among America's military leaders, but Republicans in Congress were quick to criticize some proposed changes.

In a speech at the one-year mark of his tenure as Pentagon chief, Hagel revealed many details of the defense spending plan that will be part of the 2015 budget that President Obama will submit to Congress next week. Hagel described it as the first Pentagon budget to fully reflect the nation's transition from 13 years of war.

At the core of his plan is the notion that after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that proved longer and more costly than foreseen, the U.S. military will no longer be sized to conduct large and protracted ground wars. It will put more emphasis on versatile, agile forces that can project power over great distances, including in Asia.

Hagel stressed that such changes entail risk. He said, "We are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies and in space can no longer be taken for granted."'s Cristina Corbin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.