The Gold and Blue Star Mothers are hosting a forum today for all six Republican Congressional candidates in both districts. Each candidate received eight questions in advance, and while each willanswer only two at the forum, were asked to submit their answers to all eight questions in writing.
1. The military force structure was reduced by 2/3rds after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is clear we are currently overextending the structure of our active duty military, National Guard and Reserves. No one is talking about increasing force structure. Would you support an increase of the force structure? If so, by how much? Why? How would you pay for it?
No, I don’t think we need to increase the overall size of the military. What we need to do is restructure the military, particularly our ground forces, to meet the changing threat. The Army was built to fight Soviet tanks in the fields and forests of Europe. It is too heavy and too slow for the asymmetric enemy we’re likely to face for the next generation. It is always difficult to transform a fighting force to wage the next war. It is especially difficult to do so while it’s fighting that war.
This Congress has cut the Army’s Future Combat Systems program by an additional $200 million, following cuts of $825 million over the past three years, and scheduled cuts of $3.4 billion over the next five years. This critical program represents less than 4% of the Army’s overall budget. In the 90’s, we skipped an entire generation of combat technology, and are now fighting with equipment and logistics that are decades old. Updating both the truck and the tail will save money, save lives, and win wars. I think we can provide much more for our strained fighting forces by modernizing the Army, rather than enlarging it.
2. The post WW II GI bill not only allowed returning veterans to purchase a home, but it allowed the GI to attend college and covered the tuition and expenses to do so.
Today our GIʼs receive a small portion of that. Is this an important benefit? How would you address the current situation?
The GI Bill of Rights provided not only housing assistance, but sent an entire generation of American men to college. Imagine if we had said to our returning troops, we’ll help you buy a house, but you have to live where we say. Imagine if we said we’d pay for college, but only at the school the government picked. We’re doing the same thing today with veteran’s health care. We need to expand choices for our veterans.
The services are very good at offering educational opportunities for our officers, and will keep deferring their service as long as they want to continue their education. I’d like to see our enlisted personnel get some of the same choices. Our armed forces are meeting their enlistment and re-enlistment goals, so we’re not having trouble getting people to sign up. Still, I think we can offer them a better deal. I’d like to see them choose their benefits package. I’d like to offer our troops higher pay, housing or educational opportunities, or a career track if they want to stay in for 20. Let’s let them choose the benefit package that fits the life they plan after the military.
3. In the 90ʼs, the “Donʼt Ask, Donʼt Tell” policy was instituted. Do you think this policy is a success or do you think it should be abolished and replaced with a policy that allows homosexuals to serve openly and freely in the military?
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a compromise, and far from a perfect one. But it’s been working as designed for 15 years now. Changing this policy would not be a priority for me unless our military commanders recommended revisiting it. I don’t see what a service member’s personal behavior has to do with his or her fitness for duty.
One area where “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is very controversial in on our college campuses, where some schools and some students use it as a reason to protest the military. These protests are misplaced, as the policy stems not from the military but from Congress and the President. We should strongly enforce the Solomon Amendment, which prohibits federal funds to any institution of higher learning that bars ROTC and military recruiters from campus. We should make sure schools receiving taxpayer assistance are always open to our military, regardless of what they think of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
4. What is your position on single parents or both parents simultaneously serving in the military?
There are currently 84,000 military to military marriages. That’s 168,000 service members, or more than 10% of military personnel. That’s about as many active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines as are currently serving in Iraq. Obviously, a large number of our troops want to stay married, and stay in the service. The Joint Spouse Program helps meet their needs, and 80% of these couples are stationed within 100 miles of each other at any one time.
Single parents should also have the option of remaining in the service. If the family situation changes due to divorce or death of a spouse, our military should recognize the changing needs, and do its best to so what is right for that service member, and any children involved. We’ve seen the cost of rising divorce rates across society, and the services aren’t immune from that. We should work to make sure each case is handled appropriately. I trust that most of troops take their responsibility as parents as seriously as their responsibility as warriors.
5. If you were faced to make a choice to eliminate certain weapons systems currently under consideration, which systems would you eliminate and why?
The Department of Defense has 72 major weapons systems in development, budgeted for $1.6 trillion dollars. That’s double where we were eight years ago, following the “procurement holiday” of the 1990’s. These projects are way over budget, even by Pentagon standards. On average, they are 23 percent over budget and 21 months late.
I’ll concentrate on two weapons systems. First is the MV-22 Osprey. This is the tilt-rotor aircraft now in service for the first time. It takes off like with a rotary wing and transitions in flight to an airplane, combining the flexibility of a helicopter with the speed, range, and airlift capability of a cargo plane. This could be a fantastic aircraft, especially for delivering special forces.
Even as it’s starting to work, we’re hearing calls to arm the MV-22. I don’t think it’s wise to try to turn a valuable and efficient support vehicle into a combat vehicle. It’s designed to bring men and material to the front lines, not to fight itself, and we shouldn’t compromise its mission effectiveness by trying to expand that mission. We made that mistake with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and eventually pared back that platform to focus on its core mission.
Secondly, I’d like to stop the Air Force from taking over the Army and Marines UAV programs. The Air Force, which has a lot of pilots running it, has been standing in the way of ground forces operating their own UAV’s at the squadron and platoon level. We shouldn’t lose the ability of a ground soldier to put remote eyes on a target whenever he needs it just because of a classic Pentagon turf war.
6. What weapons systems or types of weapon systems would you accelerate for development?
First, we need to continue producing the F-22 Raptor. This is the pre-eminent Air Dominance weapon in the world, and we have to replace the aging F-15 fleet as soon as possible. Congress is contemplating cutting back on the F-22 order for 2011 and beyond. We can’t replace this aircraft with the F-35. It’s not as capable.
Second, we need to develop the next generation of aircraft carrier. We’ve already cut the number of operational carriers from 12 to 11, and the Pentagon is looking to cut it to 10. A U.S. Navy Carrier Battle Group is the ultimate projection of peace through strength, and we can not lose that advantage. Having a carrier in the neighbor keeps trouble spots from erupting, and prevents wars.
Finally, we need to restore funding for the Army’s Future Combat Systems. This transformation from heavy tanks and 20,000 man battalions to a faster and more self-sufficient force costs less than 4% of the Army’s budget, but will ultimately save money, save lives, and win wars. Congress has cut FCS by $200 million, and plans to cut it by $3.4 billion more over the next five years. I’d restore that funding.
7. What is your position on military tribunals for foreign combatant detainees?
If enemy combatants are captured on the battlefield, they should be subject to military law. Terrorists, not fighting under the flag of a sovereign state, are not protected by the Geneva Convention, but the United States has always provided far greater protection for our captured enemies than our troops have received in enemy hands.
We should make sure every detainee is treated fairly. We don’t punish civilians for merely sympathizing with our enemies, but if they take up arms against us, they should not expect to be treated as if they’re in an American courtroom.
Military tribunals should seek justice, not vengeance. And our commanders should use both prudence and discretion. I trust them to do so.
8. Do you favor the current policy of eliminating VA hospitals and replacing them with taxpayer funded civilian medical providers and health care services?
Our Veterans Hospitals should deliver the best service-related care in the world. That isn’t limited to bullets and shrapnel, but also to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Gulf War Syndrome. When I was a reporter in Lebanon, I produced a documentary series on the medical research undertaken in the Upper Valley, including at the White River VA. We should be directing our medical research and medical care in the VA System to service-related illnesses and injuries.
We can’t expect our VA system to match the overall health care provided by private hospitals. No government run system ever has. So we shouldn’t force our veterans to remain trapped in a second-class health care system. For general health care, unrelated to service but covered by veterans’ benefits, we should let veterans decide where and how to get treated. If they want to go outside the VA for their care, we should let them. John McCain talks about expanding Tri-Care, and I support that.
I’d like to see greater choice and fewer government mandates throughout the health care industry, but we can certainly give our veterans as much choice as possible as we keep the commitments we made to them.