It is important for members of Congress to know that they are risking national security by failing to address, in a timely manner, the fiscal needs of our defense forces.

Recently, the Army's Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno spoke at the Association of th United States Army's (AUSA) January Institute of Land Warfare breakfast in Washington, D.C., and his message was quite clear: Our national security is at risk because of the fiscal uncertainty that we face today.

The numbers are sobering — a $6 billion shortfall for fiscal year 2013 in Army operation and maintenance accounts because Congress has failed to pass appropriations legislation and the Army must spend at fiscal year 2012 budget levels. If the sequestration triggers on March 1, another $6 billion shortfall will occur. Combined with the under-funding, the total shortfall for fiscal year 2013 could be $17 billion — during wartime!

General Odierno outlined the steps the Army is taking to remain effective while dealing with the lack of funding — cancelling combat training center rotations, delaying depot work, cancellation of maintenance for vehicles that are not bound immediately for the current fight, freezing civilian hiring, potential furloughing of existing employees and laying off temporary workers. The bottom line is that training and therefore readiness will suffer.

Odierno described Army end strength reductions to 490,000 that will occur regardless of what happens in the coming months and also said that if sequestration triggers, the number of troops could further dip. General Odierno stressed that what the Army needs most is some budget predictability through several years so that end strength and modernization and readiness can be carefully balanced and a hollow force avoided.

AUSA has been urging Congress to solve the sequestration puzzle quickly and we continue to highlight the significant dangers posed by sequestration and the repeated use of continuing resolutions to fund the Department of Defense.

Unfortunately, the military-related headlines in major newspapers today focus on side issues that serve only to take the eyes of the American people off of the key issue — the fiscal process must be put back in order so that our defense forces can maintain their readiness and their ability to defend this nation.

Claude McKinney is president of the Utah Chapter of the Association of the United States Army.