Congress Must Address Eroding Readiness in FY14 NDAA

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The chorus of resistance may have quieted, but the deafening effect of compounding budget cuts on our military blares through the halls of the homes of men and women in uniform, the buildings of our military bases, the rings of the Pentagon and our nation’s Department of Defense (DoD).

At the same time, the threats we face around the world are not diminishing. In just the last two years, we have seen conflicts arise in North Korea, Iran, Syria, across North Africa, and future challenges are sure to emerge in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East; additionally we now see threats to national security spreading into the Mediterranean Sea region and the African continent. Threats here on our homeland remain as well.

Yet despite these threats, cut after cut has hit our military and civilian all-volunteer force across the DoD. Amidst a challenging fiscal environment and a tightening budget full of uncertainty, these dedicated patriots are faced with a difficult reset of forces and the need to formulate an effective strategy. These compounding challenges, continuing combat operations in Afghanistan, and shifting focus to the Asia-Pacific all must happen while the force is being downsized. Our own Joint Chiefs of Staff stated clearly that the “readiness of our Armed Forces is at a tipping point.” Words such as “crisis,” “compromised,” and “concern” continue to be used with regard to the funding of our troops. Members of Congress and the Administration face fundamental questions with regard to the future blueprint of our military readiness. I believe leaders must support thoughtful, long-view funding and authorization decisions. 

Our nation is at a pivotal point. We have experienced these moments before, after the Vietnam War when the force was hollowed out, and most recently in the early-to-mid 1990’s when the nation was faced with reevaluating defense strategy in a post-Cold War world. The question now remains, with the war in Iraq over and our forces poised to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, how do we maintain and sustain a combat-ready and fully capable fighting force?

Our most priceless weapon system is not an F-22, a CH-47, an M-4 carbine, a nuclear aircraft carrier, or a MV-22 Osprey; it is our men and women in uniform. They made a commitment to serve and defend this nation, and it is our Constitutional duty, under Article 1, Section 8, to ensure they have the training and equipment they need to succeed in the air, on land, at sea, and in cyberspace.  Sustaining a high standard of readiness in the face of sequestration, reset, and troop withdrawals is not “nice-to-have”; it is an absolute national security necessity and paramount to our defense posture.

Today’s all-volunteer force is battle-hardened after 12 years of war, comprised of many Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen who have known service only in wartime. These men and women, most ranging in age from 18-36, have been called time after time to deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other unforgiving environments around the globe.  They are the future flag officers and senior non-commissioned officers of the United States military who will lead us over the coming decades. How do we motivate and incentivize this experience, leadership, and intellectual capacity to stay in a force that is entering uncertain territory in terms of budgets, manpower, readiness, training, operational tempo and deployments?

From an operations and maintenance standpoint, our forces are at a critical juncture for reset and retrograde. The lynchpin to our all-volunteer military’s success in the next decade is how we reset our forces, formulate strategy, and maintain and sustain ships, submarines, tanks, planes, and gear after a decade of cyclic combat operations. We must get this right. Not only is it imperative for our future national security, but it is also imperative for and well-deserved by those who volunteer to serve this nation.

These are the challenges we face as Congress approaches the annual consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).The FY2014 NDAA must maintain the initiative in the battle space, and by doing so we must never allow our forces to enter a fight with anything less than overwhelming superiority. Congress must not allow their training, readiness, and equipment status to degrade beyond repair or oversee a 21st century hollowing-out of the force. As the Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, I am committed to ensuring our troops have what they need, and are properly resourced and positioned to succeed in and dominate the battle space. 

Rep. Rob Wittman of Virginia is the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.

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