A Pentagon official signaled on Wednesday that the Army could lay off as many as 24,000 enlisted personnel and up to 5,000 officers within five years to meet a projected reduction in the force driven by budget cuts and the winding down of two wars.

Pressed on the possibility of involuntary terminations, Thomas Lamont, an assistant secretary of the Army, told a Senate Armed Services panel that layoffs were possible as the Army shrinks from a peak of 570,000 to 490,000.

"I hate to throw out numbers, but I have seen numbers that would approach enlisted category perhaps as high as mid-20s, 23, 24,000," Lamont said. "On the officer contingent, again these are very rough numbers and all based again on assumptions and attrition rates, officers may go up" to 4,500 to 5,000.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in announcing the Pentagon budget earlier this year, also said the Marines would drop by 20,000, to 182,000. The Pentagon has indicated that the reductions would come through attrition as service members retire. The possibility of layoffs would anger many in Congress who already are trying to reverse defense cuts. The military is facing nearly a half-trillion cut in projected spending over 10 years based on the budget agreement reached by President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans last summer.

At the hearing, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., pointed out that many of the service members who might get laid off had done multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Telling a well-performing combat veteran just back from war that he is getting kicked out of the Army would represent a breach of faith between our country and those who have deployed to keep us safe," she said in a statement after the hearing. "I worry about the demoralizing effect giving pink slips to our warfighters could have throughout the entire all-volunteer force."