COLUMN: Military Careers Must Remain Viable
America is blessed by our Armed Forces.
They are the most effective military in history to achieve peace through strength. The men and women who wear U.S. uniforms are not only brave, they are volunteers who have made defending our freedom their life’s work. Americans have long understood that to preserve our military we have to treat those willing to fight as well as we can.
President Barack Obama and Congress have already made serious cuts to the military budget. If the supercommittee fails this fall, defense appropriations will be slashed. This could reduce military funding to levels not seen since before World War II — with dire consequences our troops and their families.
These cuts keep me up at night. As the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, I have a special obligation to make sure our fighting men and women and their families are treated with the respect they deserve. We must keep faith with them.
As part of a military family, I know how stressful life in the armed forces can be. Minimizing that stress, and maintaining our fighting edge, is just as important as giving troops the best equipment.
We must also ensure that a military career is seen as a viable, even optimal, vocation for hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families. Service members must achieve fulfilling lives, to the highest of their potential. Potential cuts from the supercommittee put this at risk.
Historically, when the military budget is cut, the Defense Department reduces the number of people in our armed forces. We have done this after every war, and the process is already underway. The question is – how far will we go?
Armed Services Committee Republicans project that as a result of the $465 billion in cuts already passed, as well as the additional $500 billion cuts expected, DoD would likely have to lay off some 200,000 soldiers and Marines.
We are in the longest conflict our all-volunteer force has ever confronted. The Sept. 11 attack caught America by surprise and our military was not prepared to sustain the campaigns that followed. Our military forces were too small and not properly equipped.
Who paid the price? The men and women in our all-volunteer military and their families. The cost to them is not measured in dollars, but in more human terms: repeated deployments, mental and physical damage, families separated, strained and, in some cases, broken.
Have we learned nothing from their sacrifices over the last decade, which have successfully isolated terrorists overseas?
It seems not. Again, we appear bent on significantly reducing our forces as threats against America grow. With increasing global challenges and fewer forces to meet them, should anything beyond “peace” occur, our military men and women will be asked to deploy frequently, with less time between deployments to train, refit or spend time with their families.
In other words, the future for military personnel and their families could look like the past — with great strain on the warfighter and a greater strain on the warfighter’s family.
On the home front, Armed Services Committee Republicans project that military benefits will also be cut. Given the staggering reductions contemplated, no family support program will likely be untouched. Support to military families, a factor that sustained the all-volunteer force in 10 years’ of war, will be marginalized.
Keep in mind that deployment schedules; retirement and health plans, and day-to-day benefits are all part of a promise made by Americana to the men and women who defend us. Those are promises that Washington politicians must not break in the name of deficit reduction.
Defense spending as a portion of the budget has been on the decline recently. Our military budget is not driving America’s debt crisis — it accounts for less than 20 percent of the budget. Indeed, while the Defense Department has sustained deeper cuts than any other part of discretionary spending, deficits and debt are still out of control.
Liberals are pushing for most budget cuts to come from defense spending — a disproportionate percent putting American families at risk.
Those in Washington who want to revisit Defense accounts must take a sober look at their actions’ real consequences. Military life is tough, but so far we are blessed by those who choose to serve.
Moreover, we have come to learn that family readiness equals military readiness. “If mamma ain’t happy,” former Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton used to say, “ain’t nobody happy.”
Extending deployments while reducing benefits would put extra burdens on military personnel and their families. They have already sacrificed more for this nation than most other Americans. Breaking promises to these relatively few dedicated citizens will drive many of the best and brightest from our ranks.
Before we break faith with these men and women, we should ask ourselves how we are prepared to cope without them — especially when our freedoms and way of life are at risk.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R- S.C.) is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel; Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey are due to testify Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee for the first time.