Political dysfunction threatens our military and national security…again

In an era of fiscal uncertainty, the military continues to feel the pain of Washington dysfunction. With the ill effects of the partial government shutdown we witnessed in October still fresh in our minds, we are now facing a Congress that may not pass a defense authorization bill. This would be the first time in 51 years that the bill has not passed. Political partisan infighting has become so intense that it is threatening our national security. Why should our military and national defense be held hostage to political gridlock?

Time is running out. The House and Senate are only in session together through Friday, December 13. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2014 is already three months late, which has added to budget ambiguity and weakened our national defense.

We cannot afford to put off the NDAA until January. The continuing resolution ends January 15 and we will reach the debt-ceiling limit on February 15. That means there is only a maximum of 30 legislative days in 2014 to accomplish the goal. And with this Congress, it’s hard to believe that’s enough time.

There are serious repercussions for not passing the NDAA by the end of the year. Many of the ramifications will directly affect military service members and their families, as well as our national security.

(Update:) Although combat pay to our soldiers who are putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan will be spared, special pay and bonuses will not. Authority will not be extended for health professionals’ pay and re-enlistment and aviator bonuses. Worst of all, authority will not be extended to compensate caregivers of our wounded warriors, who are usually family members. Military healthcare for service members and their families will be affected as well. Authority for these forms of special pay will expire on December 31 if the bill does not pass.

Military construction projects essential to military training and readiness will be delayed. This includes projects for a CYBERCOM Command center, laboratories, hospital projects, nuclear power training facilities, as well as projects vital for training requirements overseas. This will vastly affect military readiness that is critical to our national security.

Development, modernization, and procurement of military equipment essential to fighting the war in Afghanistan and other global conflicts will not proceed. This includes: M1 Abrams Tanks, the USS Ford aircraft carrier (the Navy’s newest one), Stryker vehicles, Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV), F/A-18s, ballistic missile submarines, Virginia-class submarines, UH-72A Light Utility Helicopters (LUH), F-22s, C-130J, and many types of imperative military equipment. Delays to these programs could end up costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the long run.

Reform of the security clearance process will be delayed as well. There have been significant security breaches due to an out-of-date clearance process, which include Edward Snowden and the Navy Yard shooter. It is critically important that the failures of the security clearance process are addressed and realistically reformed.

Delays or interruptions in the capabilities of Special Operations, Cyber Command, counterterrorism and counternarcotics, training of other military forces, and certain programs that support the troops in Afghanistan are also possible.

It is critical that Congress put partisan differences aside and come together for the greater good for our military, national security, and for our nation as a whole. Too much is at stake.

It’s time to stop putting our military men and women on the frontline of Washington politics. For too long they and their families have had to suffer the consequences of political division. Congress’s constant infighting and lack of resolve creates uncertainty within the military ranks and breaks trust. And during a time of war, as we still are, you do not want the troops’ primary concern to be how their paycheck is fluctuating every few months or how they feel ill-prepared for war because they haven’t received adequate training. This uncertainty leads to instability, which weakens our military readiness. Military members must be reassured that their government has their best interest in mind and will continue to make decisions that reflect it.

Congress must address the requirements that are associated with a strong defense. It is critical that members of Congress put aside their own political agendas and pass the NDAA. A powerful defense must remain a priority in uncertain times and in an unforgiving world. For a military that has served and sacrificed in two wars over the past 12 years, they deserve nothing less than certainty that they will receive proper care and benefits, and access to the best equipment and resources to ensure they are taken care of on the battlefield.

Let’s hope Congress agrees.

Originally published at The Daily Caller: http://dailycaller.com/2013/12/12/political-dysfunction-threatens-our-military-and-national-security-again/#ixzz2nnBrKeCm

Sexual assault and the chain of command

The sexual assault epidemic in today’s military is appalling and threatens the safety of all of our brave men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our nation. In a nation that has been at war for over 12 years, it significantly undercuts military readiness.

The Pentagon understands the fragile nature and urgency of this issue and has moved combating sexual assault to the forefront of priorities. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno has said that fighting sexual assault is the Army’s number one priority. Change will not happen overnight, but they have begun the process, and that is the first step towards handling this crisis.  Prevention of sexual assault is the goal.  Rash and emotional legislation taking away command authority will not move us towards that goal.

One must understand how the chain of command functions in the military’s sexual assault procedures. It is speculative and unfounded to imply that removing command authority will fix sexual assault in the military and ensure every victim will come forward. In reality, this crisis will not be fixed by creating a new law that does not address the problem. The chain of command is not the problem. A fundamental change to military culture is the only answer to reducing sexual assault within the military.

We should not fail to acknowledge the military procedures and methods that are currently in place for sexual assault victims:

  • Each unit has a nationally certified Victims Advocate (VA) or Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), whose sole mission is to handle sexual assault cases and provide support care for the victims.
  • Service men and women are taught in mandatory courses the methods that are available to them for utilizing the VA or SARC. This allows an unbiased assessment of the situation, outside of the chain of command, and ensures all victims are treated with dignity and respect.
  • Victims may decide to report the assault confidentially (a “restricted report”), so no one within their chain of command/co-workers/friends is aware of the assault. This also prevents any possibility of retaliation or coercion when reporting a sexual assault. There is also the option of an “unrestricted report,” which involves the chain of command, but it is solely at the discretion of the victim.
  • Mandatory Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention or Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training is required for every military individual.
  • 24-hour hot lines and “Safe Help Room” online support groups are available.

The military culture has already begun to shift away from command involvement in sexual assault and is focusing on utilizing the victims’ advocates and sexual assault response coordinators. While this does not remove command authority, the military has recognized the fragile and specific needs of the victim. Reporting has increased, meaning service men and women now feel like their report will be taken more seriously.

Stripping military commanders of the authority to manage sexual assaults will have significant repercussions. The military is a government bureaucracy like any other government agency, but the reason it is able to operate as an effective and efficient organization is because of the chain of command. It creates an environment of respect, authority, and command.  It operates well, because of the backbone of the command and rank structure. Without it, the military would not be as capable and accomplished.

Commanders are involved in all aspects of their soldiers’ lives, especially legal issues. And they have to be. They are tasked with maintaining situational awareness of everything that weakens combat readiness. And sexual assault not only weakens combat readiness, it poisons the entire unit’s morale and esprit de corps.  You train as a team, and you fight as a team. Removing military commanders’ authority to contribute to the process of sexual assault cases discredits their influence to lead their soldiers, weakens them as leaders on the battlefield, and, therefore, weakens the entire military force.

We must move beyond political factions, personal preferences, and posturing and address the culture at hand. The problems do not begin and end in the military, but there is an opportunity for the military to lead from the front and set the tone for society. If our nation’s military leaders lead in restoring dignity and respect, then the nation will have a unified force serving as an example for the rest of us.

Originally Published at The Hill http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/judicial/191775-sexual-assault-and-chain-of-command

This article was co-authored with Penny Nance, the president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization. For more information visit concernedwomen.org.  Amber Barno is a military adviser to Concerned Veterans for America. She is a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more information visit amberbarno.com

Follow Amber on Twitter @AmberBarno