Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel  testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to become secretary of defense on Jan. 31, 2013.
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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to propose big cuts in Army in 2015 budget

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel is recommending shrinking the Army to its smallest size in decades in an effort to balance defense needs with budget realities, according to defense officials.

Hagel is expected to announce that and other recommendations Monday in a speech at the Pentagon outlining his priorities for next year's defense budget.

Army leaders have been saying for months that they expected to absorb additional troop reductions as the nation prepares to end its combat role in Afghanistan this year. The Army is already scheduled to shrink to 490,000 active-duty members from a wartime peak of 570,000. Hagel is expected to propose cutting it further to between 440,000 and 450,000.

Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Monday that Hagel consulted closely with the military service chiefs on how to balance defense and budget-saving requirements.

"He has worked hard with the services to ensure that we continue to stand for the defense of our national interests - that whatever budget priorities we establish, we do so in keeping with our defense strategy and with a strong commitment to the men and women in uniform and to their families, Kirby said.

"But he has also said that we have to face the realities of our time. We must be pragmatic. We can't escape tough choices. He and the chiefs are willing to make those choices," Kirby said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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