Rebuilding Our Military Is A National - And New Jersey - Priority

Feb 22, 2018

As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have always put first the needs and priorities of those men and women who serve our nation. With great sacrifice to their families, these brave individuals put their lives on the line, at home and abroad, in defense of our freedoms and principles. Their efforts – and lives – are threatened, however, due to the state of our military readiness. For New Jersey and the nation, I strongly believe rebuilding our military is a national security priority.

Inconceivably, some argue that our military readiness is not threated and, rather, the Defense Department should be scaled back even further. Defense Secretary James Mattis and the hard numbers strongly refute that assertion. With real and growing threats such as Iran, China and North Korea, we cannot continue the decline of our armed services and expect our readiness not to be severely impacted.

Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. Army was reduced by nearly 90,000 soldiers and eliminated 15 brigade combat teams. The Air Force fleet continued to downsize, now standing at only 5,500 aircraft with 55 squadrons, while its pilot shortage grew to 2,000 vacancies. Significant reductions in federal resources have affected approximately 80 percent of Marine Corps aviation units, which lack the minimum number of ready basic aircraft. Finally and most alarming, the Defense Department reported to Congress in October that we do not have a sufficient number of missile defense interceptors to defend against the current threat from North Korea and its unpredictable dictator.

The negative impact is not limited to our nation’s security and our efforts to quickly mobilize and defend against unexpected threats. The safety of our servicemen and women who must continuously train is also at grave risk.

In 2017 alone, 80 servicemembers lost their lives in training accidents versus 21 servicemembers killed in combat. Deadly aviation accidents nearly doubled in the first half of 2017 compared to the average of the previous decade. Fatal naval incidents aboard the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain last year were caused in part due to readiness shortfalls, including insufficient time and resources to train sailors and maintain ships properly. With adequate federal resources and manpower, these accidents can become less frequent and less fatal.

With passage of the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the bipartisan budget caps agreement recently signed into law, President Trump is making good on his promise to reverse the degradation of our readiness capabilities and strengthen our military. Substantive federal investments Congress has approved during the next two years will allow for rebuilding an Army that is at its smallest since World War II; a Navy that is at its smallest since World War I; and the smallest and oldest Air Force our nation has ever had, with the average aircraft being 27 years old. Furthermore, a 2.6 percent pay raise for all members of the uniformed services has been proposed for the next fiscal year.

Efforts to rebuild and restore our military readiness to acceptable levels will include new operations in New Jersey and benefits to South Jersey. Federal funding will now ensure the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is capable to plan and construct necessary hangars to house 24 Air Force KC-46 refueling tankers – one of two bases nationally to receive the assignment.

In South Jersey, the Air National Guard 177th Fighter Wing in Egg Harbor Township will look to prioritize critical projects to strengthen its position in the next round of competition to accept and operate Joint Strike Fighter F-35 jets. Having secured nearly $50 million in military construction funds to date, I continue to work in close cooperation with the 177th leadership to identify and promote projects that will further reinforce the security role and physical footprint of the base. Consequently, the temporary prohibition of an additional base realignment and closure round (BRAC) ensures our military installations – and their economic importance locally – will continue undeterred.

As Congress begins work on this year’s NDAA, I will again work diligently to ensure the resources needed by the 177th Fighter Wing, our military leaders, and those who serve in the Armed Forces are included. After years in decline, we are beginning to right the ship and must remain committed to seeing the mission through. To protect our nation and its citizens we must not only project strength, but guarantee our military’s ability to respond forcefully ten-fold in the face of increasingly aggressive adversaries.