1. Defense Budget: Air Force Battle Congress for Readiness Funding
To balance readiness today and modernization tomorrow, the Air Force's fiscal 2015 budget request is shrinking like today's defense budget thanks to Congress's own priorities and the approaching threat of sequestration in 2016.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III briefed the Pentagon press corps this week on the state of the Air Force and its prospects for the future.
The Secretary spoke on the importance of readiness funding as the key to the Air Force continuing to be capable to response to missions world-wide at a moment's notice. Building to full-spectrum readiness was the reason for pumping more money into the Air Force fiscal year 2015 budget proposal.
Because of tight budgets, James said, "We ... did suggest retiring some older aircraft to pay for this priority as well as tomorrow's modernization, and it has been difficult to get some of these proposals approved through the Congress."
It also seems, at least for now, the secretary added, that Congress will not grant the Air Force authority for another round of base closures.
"The message that Gen. Welsh and I keep taking to Congress at every stage that we can is ... please do not carve money out of our readiness accounts as these priorities need to be paid for, because readiness is key and we need to get those levels up.
And by the way, she added, "Please Congress, lift sequestration in fiscal year 2016 because if these difficult choices in fiscal year 2015 were troublesome, hold on to your hats. It's going to get worse and even more difficult in fiscal 2016."
In seven months on the job, James said she's seen all five Air Force missions at work at 39 different bases in 22 states and overseas in Afghanistan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, the United Kingdom and Germany.
From the beginning she established three priorities, she said -- taking care of people, striking the right balance between readiness today and providing for readiness and modernization tomorrow, and especially in a very tight budget environment, making sure that every dollar counts.
"We have really impressive airmen. They are smart, they are dedicated, they are motivated. They're really pumped is the way I would put it," the secretary said, "But ... I do feel our airmen are feeling some strains."
Read the full hearing at:
2. Defense Health Headquarters Visit
This week, staff from the National Security Division visited the Defense Health Headquarter for a presentation prepared for VSOs ad MSOs.
The Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs), Dr. Jonathan Woodson, along with Defense Health Agency staff gave updates and information on a number of important issues, to include the status of the Secretary's review of the Military Health System, as well as a number of TRICARE Health Plan issues such as the Nurse Advice Line and Behavioral Health Counselors. We also received briefings concerning the upcoming Invictus Games in London and Warrior Games in Colorado.
3. United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should not be controversial: It requires equal access for the disabled and bans discrimination against them in all countries that sign on. There is no question that the Senate should ratify it. The only issue is why it has any opponents at all.
Modeled after the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, the treaty has been ratified by 146 countries and the European Union, and has legions of supporters in the United States — veterans groups of different generations, business and civic leaders. It also has bipartisan roots: The George W. Bush administration participated in drafting it, and President Barack Obama signed it.
Although there are a number of Republicans who oppose it, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is an outspoken advocate, as is former Republican Sen. Majority Leader Bob Dole, who was disabled during his service in World War II. Now 91 and using a wheelchair, Dole recently made his second poignant trip to the Capitol to promote the treaty, urging former colleagues to vote for what he called "not a Republican or a Democrat treaty."
In late 2012, many did vote to ratify it — 61 senators, in fact. But treaties needs 67 votes, a two-thirds majority of the Senate. The treaty was opposed by 38 Republican senators, many of whom argued that it would undermine U.S. sovereignty and cede too much decision-making authority to the United Nations. Strong opposition also came from vocal advocates for home schooling who were alarmed by a passage in the treaty that they believe might override parents' ability to make decisions about their own disabled children. In fact, the treaty does nothing of the sort.
The bottom line is that the treaty does not trump or alter U.S. laws or those of individual states. And if there is any lingering doubt of that among skeptics, the treaty's backers in the Senate say they will add clarifying language as part of the ratification process to make sure there are no ambiguities. Senate ratification will bring U.S. influence and innovation to other countries that are in the process of expanding access and opportunity for the disabled.
This treaty isn't about parents losing authority over their kids or the U.S. losing sovereignty over its citizens. It's about access for the disabled, and a world in which they can travel and thrive without facing discrimination. That's something we all should want. The Senate should finally ratify this treaty.
4. POW/MIA Update
Marine Pfc. Randolph Allen, 19, of Rush, Ky., was buried July 29, in Arlington National Cemetery, Washington D.C. In November 1943, Allen was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, which landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll, in an attempt to secure the island against stiff Japanese resistance. Over several days of intense fighting approximately 1,000 Marines were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded. As a result of these attacks, Allen was reported killed in action on Nov. 20, 1943.
In the immediate aftermath of the fighting on Tarawa, U.S. service members who died were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries. During World War II, U.S. Navy Combat Engineers, "SeaBees," significantly restructured the landscape to convert the island for use by the military. In 1946 when U.S. Army Graves Registration Service personnel attempted to locate all of the battlefield interments, many of the burials could not be located.
From Nov. 12-27, 2013 a private organization, known as History Flight, excavated what was believed to be a war time fighting position on the island of Betio. During this excavation History Flight recovered five sets of remains, personal effects and military equipment. Four sets of remains were determined to be Japanese service members and the fifth set was believed to be that of a U.S. Marine. Two sets of military identification tags which correlated to Allen were also found in the fighting position.
In the identification of Allen's remains, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools such as dental and skeletal comparison, which matched Allen's records.