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U.S. Military Will Remain Strong Despite Budget Cuts, Hagel Tells Hawaii Marines

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel assured Marines and sailors in Hawaii today that despite deep budget and force cuts, the U.S. military will remain the world’s best, and the nation will honor the commitments it has made to them.

Photo via @USPacificCommand on Twitter

Commander of the Pacific Command Admiral Locklear greets Secretary of Defense Hagel upon arrival in Hawaii.  Photo via @USPacificCommand on Twitter

Hagel kicked off a four-nation trip to Southeast Asia with a troop talk at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay.

The secretary told the service members they are an integral to the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, and he recognized the pivotal role they play in strengthening alliances and partnerships across the region.

“You are at the cutting edge of security, of stability and prosperity,” he told the assembled group. “You are all a part of it, at the front end of it, the cutting edge of it. And what you do and how you do it is particularly important as to how the world sees America and how they view our interests, but probably more importantly, how they view our intentions.”

When the secretary opened the floor to questions, he was asked about the impact of budget reductions and sequestration on military readiness and credibility and retirement and educational benefits.

Hagel said he and other Defense Department leaders have been honest and direct with Congress and the American people about the national security implications of large budget cuts.

He expressed concern about the size of the budget and force reductions and uncertainty about future funding levels. These factors, and the speed with which cuts are taking place, give the DOD leaders “very little flexibility in the tough decisions that are going to have to be made,” he said.

Even with these challenges, the secretary emphasized that the U.S. military remains the world’s best.

“Even with these cuts – and they are severe, and they may be even more severe – there is no question that America has the most significant military capability in the world,” he assured the service members.

“There is no military even close to this military,” he said, a point he said the United States has made its friends, allies and adversaries alike.

“We are not without resources. We are not without capability,” Hagel said. “You can measure that by any metric,” most notably by the men and women in uniform.

“You are the best-trained, the smartest, the best-led, most professional military force this country has ever had,” Hagel told the group. He lauded the noncommissioned officer corps that he said stands head and shoulders above all others. “No other armed force in the world, no one is even close to having an enlisted NCO corps like we have in our institution,” he said.

The secretary also noted the U.S. military’s technological superiority and a budget, that even with deep reductions, remains sizeable.

“When you look at the balance sheet here, we are going to be the best, most capable, strongest military force in the world for a long time to come,” he said.

Strategic choices being made today will help ensure that continues into the future, Hagel said.

“I think this is going to make you stronger,” he said, expressing confidence in America’s people, its values and its military. “We will come out of this stronger than we went in,” he said.

Asked about the future of military retirement benefits, Hagel acknowledged that the current path is fiscally unsustainable for the long term.

“That doesn’t mean we are going to cut off retirement benefits,” he made clear. “For all of you, when you retire, your benefits should not be impacted by whatever tough choices we are going to have to make.”

Hagel said he would not “play games” and tell service members that the benefits will increase. “They probably aren’t going to increase,” he said. “But you are not going to be hurt.”

Minor adjustments may be required in areas such as TRICARE premiums for retired military members, he said. “If we make some adjustments now and we are smart, then we can adjust what we need to adjust and assure that the benefits that you have earned, that we promised, are going to be there,” he said.

Asked by a Marine about Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits, the secretary, who cosponsored the enacting legislation while serving in the Senate, said he will fight to keep it intact.

“It’s the right thing to do for our people…It is a smart investment in our country, a smart investment in you and your families,” he said. “Education cannot be disconnected from security [and] from the future of our country. So we will do everything we can to protect [it].”

Hagel will continue his Southeast Asia trip tomorrow, with stops scheduled in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.

 

Military Officials and Defense Contractors Discuss Sequestration

 The Briefing Organized by Representative  Mark Takai Emphasizes Sobering Realities of Federal Budget Cuts

Top military officers, Department of Defense contractors and a representative from the Chamber of Commerce met today at the State Capitol to discuss the near-term and long-term impacts of sequestration on Hawaii’s military services and the local community.

capital

Military officials indicated that the cutbacks would not affect their core functions. Major General Darryll Wong, Hawaii State Department of Defense said their “critical missions were exempt” and Major General Roger Mathews, U.S. Army Pacific said we have “prioritized our readiness”.

While active military personnel are exempt from any cuts, they all expected around a 20% decrease in wages for civilian positions with the cuts coming primarily through furloughs. The loss in wages would affect discretionary spending, particularly for local retailers near military installations.

The impact on the defense contractors is not quite so clear. Most agreed that construction contracts that have been funded will move forward, but they expect delays to be inevitable.  “We don’t know what’s coming. It’s hard to gauge the impact,”  said Alan Hayashi of BAE, a civilian contractor who primarily does ship repair in Pearl Harbor but has subcontractors throughout all the islands in a variety of positions.

Ben Nakaoka, Vice President of Finance for Pacific Shipyards International who operates two dry docks expressed concern that they will have to terminate skilled craftsmen.

“If quality suffers or there isn’t an adequate pool of skilled workers in the islands, the Navy can shift work to its’ other West Coast shipyards,” he told lawmakers.

Charles Ota, Vice President for Military Affairs at the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, warned that Hawaii is in close competition with all the other US defense communities across the country, all protecting themselves against the loss of their military presence.

He noted, “even though Hawaii enjoys a strategic location in the mid-Pacific, today’s fiscal realities, coupled with the advanced capabilities of today’s high tech weapons systems, may soon override our strategic location in future basing decisions.”

He added, “It is incumbent upon the legislature to avoid actions that would detract from encouraging the military to remain in Hawaii.”

Representative K. Mark Takai, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans, Military & International Affairs said, “It has been good to have this dialogue as we consider ourselves an important member of the military team.  We need to aggressively push for legislation that ensures the availability of adequate training areas for the Army and Marine Corps, ensures continuing ship repair at Pearl Harbor which is critical to the US Pacific Fleet and ensures that members of the military have strong representation in our government process.”

 

House and Senate Military Affairs Committees to Hear From Military and Defense Contractors

Topics Include Economic Impact of Sequestration on the Armed Forces

An informational briefing is being held to discuss the economic impact of the Armed forces in Hawaii.

WHO:  The House Committee on Veterans, Military & International Affairs, & Culture and the Arts and the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs

WHAT:  Informational hearing on the economic impact of the Armed Forces in Hawaii

WHEN: Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 a.m.

WHERE:  Conference Room 309,  Hawaii State Capitol

It will also address the effects that across the board cuts in the federal budget, known as sequestration, will have on the military in Hawaii.  The following individuals, or their representatives, have been invited to participate in the briefing:

  • Admiral Samuel Locklear, United States Pacific Command
  • General Herbert Carlisle, United States Pacific Air Forces
  • Admiral Cecil Haney, United States Pacific Fleet
  • Lieutenant General Francis Wiercinski, United States Army Pacific
  • Lieutenant General Terry Robling, United States Marine Forces Pacific
  • Rear Admiral Charles Ray, United States Coast Guard, District Fourteen
  • Major General Darryll Wong, Hawaii State Department of Defense

The Committees will also hear from the following invited defense contractors, or their representatives:

  • Alan Hayashi, BAE
  • Bill Ryzewic, BAE Shipyard
  • Ben Nakaoka, Navatek

Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans, Representative K.Mark Takai said, ” the military is an integral part of our community in Hawaii and it goes without saying that what impacts our Armed Forces will affect all of our citizens.  The country’s Defense Department will be hit particularly hard by sequestration and we need to have as much information as we can get to prepare for and deal with this critical issue.”

The briefing will be televised live by Olelo on Channel 49.

Admiral Cecil Haney just stated the following on Facebook:

As a result of an indefinite continuing resolution and sequestration budget cuts, we will make tough choices to delay or cancel some training, operations, and maintenance and will defer these decisions until the last possible moment in order to provide flexibility and thoughtful deliberation. Our guiding principles will be to protect forward readiness and minimize the impact on our people. I am particularly concerned about the potential furlough one day a week of our valuable civilian teammates and how this will impact them as well as our military workforce. Even though budget constraints will cause some turbulence in the short-term, there should be no doubt about the Navy’s enduring commitment to maintain security and stability in the vital Asia-Pacific. The U.S. Pacific Fleet remains on watch — as demonstrated March 1 when USS Freedom departed San Diego bound for Southeast Asia, marking the maiden deployment of the Navy’s first littoral combat ship. We will continue to deploy capable warfighting units forward to operate with our allies and partners. We will also continue to keep our Pacific Fleet Sailors, civilians and families informed. Our Navy team is strong, and with everyone’s help and understanding, we will overcome this new challenge.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 22, 2013) The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) is underway conducting sea trials off the coast of Southern California. Freedom, the lead ship of the Freedom variant of LCS, is expected to deploy to Southeast Asia this spring. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans/Released)

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 22, 2013) The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) is underway conducting sea trials off the coast of Southern California. Freedom, the lead ship of the Freedom variant of LCS, is expected to deploy to Southeast Asia this spring. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans/Released)