1. Defense Budget: Senate NDAA
The US Senate left town last week for a recess that will last into early September. It did so without scheduling floor time to take up an Armed Services Committee-passed version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Panel leaders are searching for a way to avoid last year’s partisan squabbling that sank their bill and forced a watered-down version to be passed late in the year.
What’s happening: The August recess is an annual congressional ritual. The October recess is a midterm election year congressional ritual, and that’s what is coming in two months so members can campaign for re-election. So that means September is the only chance before the new fiscal year begins for the Senate to pass its NDAA and allow for a traditional conference with House authorizers.
What’s next: The Senate might get to the Pentagon policy bill in September.
Part of the bill will have to allocate funds for setting up a location for new aircraft as the United States Air Force has officially selected Eielson Air Force Base as the preferred location for two squadrons of F-35A fighters. The Secretary of the Air Force announced that following an environmental impact study (EIS) and official record of decision, Eielson AFB should receive its first of 48 F-35 fighters in the summer of 2019.
Following an EIS, the Air Force will make its final record of decision in the fall of 2015. The F-35 would bring approximately $37M in military construction in FY 2016 and nearly $150 million in FY 2017 to Eielson AFB.
2015 Department of Defense Budget Request:
2. National Defense Panel Slams Sequester
A congressionally chartered panel of prestigious defense experts denounced sequestration as "self-defeating" and a "serious strategic misstep" that "Congress and the President should repeal immediately." But will it preach to anyone not already in the choir?
While bipartisan, the National Defense Panel is most heeded by House Republicans. They see it as a valuable alternative to the Obama administration's Quadrennial Defense Reviews, which House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon in particular considers so inadequate as to violate the law. (There were NDPs under Clinton as well, but not during the Bush years). Both the 2010 NDP and this one call for more defense spending in general and a stronger Navy in particular. No wonder, then, McKeon hailed its release and that Republican Rep. Randy Forbes - the House seapower subcommittee chairman and an arch-foe of sequestration - called me this morning to tout the report.
"I don't know of anywhere where you bring together such a diversity of talent and expertise as you do on this independent panel to review the QDR," Forbes told me, "You don't get more bipartisan than this panel, and I certainly think it gives us a lot of support for positions that we have been advocating."
What do Democrats think? "Given that they're endorsing some things most of the Armed Services Committee already agrees with, e.g. repealing sequestration. You'll see the NDP being whipped out and used as a rhetorical support," predicted one House Democratic aide. "It will be used by people who already believe in the message - and everyone else will ignore it."
"It'll be required reading for people already interested in defense, but I'll be surprised if it changes anybody's position in any way," agreed Maren Leed. Now a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Leed worked for Democratic Senator Carl Levin (now SASC chairman) before serving in the Pentagon under both Bush and Obama as a non-political appointee. The 2010 NDP "put some recommendations on the table that were pretty large departures from where the Department was," she recalled. "They were ignored."
"The chief proponents of the NDP the whole way along definitely have been HASC Republicans; I don't think it's been particularly of interest to anyone in the SASC," said Sam Brannen, a former Obama official also now at CSIS. Nevertheless, "the NDP can say things that are both inconvenient for the administration and inconvenient for congress," Brannen went on. "It can blow the alarm on things like the actual cost to our national security of the collapse of consensus on defense spending [and] frame some of these grand strategic questions that are now contributing to gridlock inside the armed services committees."
But even within the House GOP, Leed said skeptically, "some House Republicans will think it's great. Other House Republicans who are more focused on the debt will say, of course that's what you get when you ask a bunch of retired generals."
Of the NDP's 10 current members, five are in fact retired generals: three Army, one Marine, one Air Force. Two panelists are former top Pentagon officials (both Democrats), two are former Armed Services members (one from each party), and one is a retired ambassador. Interestingly, the panel includes no admirals, yet it departs from service parochialism sufficiently to insist that the Navy needs a larger share of the defense budget, along with the Air Force, while the Army and Marines should simply not be cut below their pre-9/11 strength. Overall, the NDP says, the force should approach the old standard (arguably never reached in practice) of being able to fight and win two wars simultaneously.
There's no way to do any of this under sequestration-level budgets, which the panel calls "unacceptable." Escalating Russian and Chinese aggression, North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, and sectarian civil war in Syria and Iraq "are among the trends that mandate increased defense funding," the report declares (emphasis mine).
It's important that the bipartisan panel agreed there's a widening gap between global threats and US capabilities to combat them, Forbes told me. "They acknowledge that even if we put the resources there, we may not be able to stop that," he said, "but if we don't put the resources there, we don't stand a chance of stopping that."
"I think it does have impact, Sydney," Forbes said, "and here's where: It points out in this review is that the problems that sequestration brings to national defense dwarf any problems that sequestration may bring to other aspects of the budget. And therefore if you can't get rid of sequestration across the board for everything, you sure by golly better get rid of it as relates to defense."
Given Democrats' insistence that any deal to spare defense from sequestration should protect domestic spending as well, there's hardly a bipartisan consensus on that point, I noted.
"There is not," Forbes replied, "but sometimes what you have to do is first of all define the problem so you can get consensus."
"It's going to be important that we get these findings out and do a good job educating our colleagues so we begin to shift this debate," the congressman continued. "I see that movement taking place, I see it taking place within our conference already, and this report will go a long ways to help."
3. DoD Quarterly Suicide Report
In its efforts to better understand suicide among all its components, the Department of Defense released its first quarterly suicide report (QSR), today, for the four quarters of 2013.
The report summarizes suicide counts and annual rates for the active component, reserves, and National Guard. Additionally, the QSR shows calendar year 2013 quarterly suicide counts, annual suicide counts, and annual suicide rates for each of the services. It also reports 2012 annual counts and annual rates as published in the department’s 2012 Suicide Event Report (DoDSER) annual report.
The Department of Defense considers one loss to suicide too many, and will continue to do everything possible to prevent suicide in our military. The QSR is intended to communicate the department’s suicide data on a routine and frequent basis.
Summary of Results
The 2013 suicide rate for Active Component Service members was 18.7 suicides per 100,000 Service members. For the Reserves, the rate was 23.4 per 100,000 Service members. For the National Guard, the rate was 28.9 per 100,000 Service members.
Data Sources and Collection Process
Suicide mortality data in this report are provided by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AMFES) with inputs from the Service suicide prevention programs. Population data are collected from the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC).
AFMES tracks suicide data for the Active Component and that portion of the Reserves and National Guard on Active Duty status (i.e., Activated Service members on Title 10 orders). For all other Service members whom AFMES does not track, suicide data originates from civilian authorities and is made available through the Services.
Suicide counts are broken down by component and Service. The Active Component counts and rates provided in this report also include the Cadets and Midshipmen at the military academies.
Counts are also provided for the Reserves and National Guard. The counts and rates provided here include Reserve and National Guard suicides regardless of the Service member’s duty status at the time of death.
Suicide rates are presented as annual rates per 100,000 Service members.
For each annual rate, the denominator is the average of the 12 monthly end-strengths for that segment of the population. This averaging approach accounts for the changing size of the Service member populations throughout the course of the calendar year.
The Causes of Suicide Are Diverse
Suicide is a complex issue. Just as in the general population, suicide in the military is usually associated with relationship problems, financial distress, legal issues, and depression.
There appears to be no direct link between deployment and an associated risk of suicide.
Recognize the signs of suicide: hopelessness, anxiety, self-destructive behavior like alcohol and drug abuse, and talking about death.
DoD’s Goals and Objectives for the Future
Enhance partnerships among federal and non-federal organizations through joint activities and messaging.
Increase help-seeking among Service members and their Families.
Promote awareness of available resources such as Vets4Warriors, the Military Crisis Line, and other DoD activities.
Strengthen the personal commitment of Service members, including military leaders, to prevent suicide.
Educate Service members on recognizing suicide warning signs and risk factors and on building protective factors and resilience.
A breakdown of 2013 suicide counts by quarter and resources for service members and their families, who may be facing challenges, can be found at: http://www.suicideoutreach.org/SuicideData/QuarterlyReports.aspx
4. POW/MIA Update
Army Master Sgt. Lawrence O. Jock, 37, of Fort Covington, N.Y., was buried Aug. 1 in Malone, N.Y. On July 14, 1953, Jock was a forward observer assigned to Battery A, 955th Field Artillery, 8th U.S. Army, which operated in support of the Republic of Korea’s 3rd Division near Kangwon Province, North Korea. Chinese forces attacked, forcing the 3rd Division’s units to abandon their positions. After this battle, Jock was reported as missing in action.
Approximately two weeks after the battle, an Armistice agreement was signed between the United Nations and North Korea. As part of the Armistice, prisoners of war and war dead were exchanged. No further information on Jock was received from the Chinese and North Korean governments or Returning American prisoners of war, and a military review board declared Jock to be presumed dead, with an effective date of July 15, 1954.
Between 1991 and 1994, North Korea turned over to the U.S. 208 boxes of human remains believed to contain 350 - 400 U.S. servicemen who fought during the war. North Korean documents, turned over with some of the boxes, indicated that some of the remains were recovered from the vicinity where Jock was believed to have died.
To identify Jock’s remains, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, including mitochondrial DNA and radiograph comparison which matched his records.
Today, 7,882 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. Using modern technology, identifications continue to be made from remains that were previously turned over by North Korean officials or recovered from North Korea by American teams.