Congress has passed a measure to pay active-duty military personnel during the government shutdown. So, lawmakers have solved the military part of the problem, right?
Thousands of full-time members of the Guard and Reserve serve most of the time in a civilian status. They’re called Civilian Technicians or Air Reserve Technicians. They perform vital functions for our nation’s defense every day, and on drill weekends or when called to active duty, they serve in a military status.
And they’ve received furlough notices while Congress keeps getting paid.
What are some of the technicians’ non-essential functions that won’t get done? Just little stuff like flying and maintaining airplanes. Analyzing intelligence. Training aircrews.
Congressional dereliction of duty led the Veterans of Foreign Wars—hardly a bastion of liberalism—to issue a legislative alert during the summer. I’m a VFW member, and several weeks ago I received a VFW e-mail calling on members to urge Congress to pass a budget agreement. As you can see, Congress had other priorities.
The VFW alert states that an uncertain budget climate impacts readiness, hurts troops and their families, and tells our enemies that America’s political leadership can’t get its priorities straight.
It also notes that sequestration could eventually bring the Army’s troop strength as low as 380,000 soldiers. (Current plans call for an active-duty Army end strength of 490,000 by 2017.)
The VFW says other budget-cutting options include reducing the number of carrier battle groups from eleven to eight. The e-mail adds, “All of this could have been avoided had Congress just done its job and passed a budget agreement.”
The message goes on to say “it is the responsibility of our nation’s leadership to work together (emphasis mine) to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration.”
With the shutdown, Congress has doubled down on mindless and irresponsible. And Capitol Hill foolishness has done too much harm already.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says all the services have taken hits. At the VFW’s national convention in July, he said, “Flying hours have been reduced, ships are not sailing, and Army training has been halted.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh has said sequestration “has driven us over the readiness cliff.” According to Air Force magazine, Welsh also says the loss of aircrew proficiency elevates risk. He adds that problems from stagnating skills will only grow over time, so the military hopes to return to a sense of budget normalcy.
The troops charged with keeping the nation safe are doing their best, despite obstacles created by politicians concerned primarily with their own careers. Our men and women in the military—including Guard and Reserve members—deserve better.