Senior House lawmakers sounded the alarm over what they say is the U.S. military’s lack of preparedness for battle following a classified briefing Thursday on how deepening budget cuts are impacting troop readiness.
Continuing cuts to the nation’s defense budget have left U.S. troops underprepared for battle, according to House Armed Services Committee Chair Howard "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.) and Readiness Subcommittee Chairman Rob Wittman (R., Va.), who briefed reporters following a classified briefing with top military brass.
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The briefing—one in a series that will be held over the next weeks—was aimed at convincing members of Congress to fight against further defense cuts as next year’s federal budgeting process gets underway.
The brief was led by Brigadier General Martin Schweitzer and Dr. Laura Junor, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness.
Military leaders from all branches of the service have increasingly spoken out in recent months about how the budget crisis is impacting readiness and their ability to carry out missions.
The goal of these briefings is "to make sure that members not on the House Armed Services Committee understand what we’re facing in the nation, what we have to decide upon," and what "it means if there’s not proper resources," Wittman told a small group of reporters after the briefing.
As billions of dollars are slashed from the defense budget under an agreement known as sequestration, the military is finding itself unable to train troops and retain key personnel.
"One of the things that really concerns me, all of these cuts we’re having, the first thing that gets hit is readiness," said McKeon. "So the troops that are preparing for Afghanistan, remember we are still at war, are not getting the training they got a year ago."
"And I’ve been to a lot of the bases and the training they really focus on is IEDs," or improvised explosive devises, McKeon added. "That’s where we lose most of our lives, limbs over there. If they are cut short on some of that training it puts them more at risk.
Lawmakers have a duty to ensure that the troops are ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.
"Reality tells us that our forces will be unprepared to deploy, they will face increased risk, their safety will be jeopardized, their missions compromised, and there will be an increased likelihood that more Americans will be killed carrying out their constitutional duty, both on the battle field and in training if cuts to our national security are allowed to continue," Wittman said in an additional statement issued after the briefing.
"Readiness was already in decline before sequestration," he said. "It is critical that members responsible under the Constitution to provide for our common defense, understand what these cuts mean to our neighbors’ sons and daughters who are sacrificing their all to serve our nation."
Many lawmakers do not grasp the intricacies of the U.S. defense budget, making the classified briefing all the more critical, according to McKeon and Wittman.
"We need to have enough money and we’ve cut so much it’s gone past enough," McKeon said. "One of the things that Rob is trying to do with this is educate other members of our conference."
Wittman is also pushing top House lawmakers such as Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and GOP budget guru Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) to take part in the briefings.
"We’re going to follow up and do more of this," McKeon said. "We would like to get leadership to understand the same things. While they have people in the meetings it’s not the same as getting them yourself."