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Shelton Voices Readiness, Quality of Life Concerns

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2001 – In what may have been his last appearance before the Senate, the nation's top uniformed leader said that while the U.S. military is the best in the world, the country cannot become complacent.

Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified Sept. 5 before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. He retires Sept. 30.

He told the lawmakers he has learned three lessons in 38 years as a soldier. "The first is, that in this noble profession of arms, there simply is no substitute for being ready when the nation calls," he said.

His second lesson is that the military is about people, and the third is the military must be ready for the threats of tomorrow while countering the threats of today.

"If we should have to fight tomorrow, I'm confident that our front-line troops are trained and ready," he told the senators. "However, it is important to note that many other operational units are not as ready." These latter, he said, include the U.S. strategic airlift fleet, intelligence capabilities, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, and the training bases.

Since 1995, DoD has experienced a 133 percent increase in the number of personnel committed to operations around the world, while the number of service members has dropped, he noted. "This high operational tempo on segments of our force has increased the strain on our people and has highlighted the imbalance that we have today between our strategy and our force structure," he said.

Shelton listed the weapon systems and their various ages. The aerial tanker and B-52 bomber fleets, for example, are almost 40 years old. Other platforms are also approaching the end of their envisioned life.

"Now, while we have been successful in meeting the demands of current operations, we have also been unable to significantly increase our investment in procurement, in part due to the increasing costs associated with these platforms," Shelton said. "If we don't increase our efforts in procurement, then we are left essentially with two choices: We can either retire these aging systems, or we can continue to maintain the old systems, resulting in increased costs along with reduced operational capability.

"The bottom line is this, I don't believe that we can efficiently sustain our current capabilities for much longer, much less pay for ongoing efforts to modernize and transform, without an increase in resources."

Shelton also urged the senators to support the Efficient Facilities Initiative. The EFI would institute another round of base closures and realignments.

"A quality force deserves quality facilities," he said. "That's why I believe it's essential that we provide the resources that are necessary to stop and reverse the deterioration at our posts, our camps, our bases and our stations. One way that the Congress can directly help is to support DoD's Efficient Facilities Initiative, to dispose of excess bases and facilities."

The chairman asked the subcommittee to continue to support pay raises for the force and other quality of life initiatives. "I would ask your support to help ensure that all of our men and women in uniform, single, married or unaccompanied, are provided with adequate housing," he said. He said that currently 62 percent of family housing units are classified as inadequate. Money is needed to fix this infrastructure, he said.

The military's TRICARE healthcare plan also must be fully funded, he said. "Today one of the most valuable recruiting and retention tools a corporation can offer a work force or a potential employee is a comprehensive medical package," Shelton said. "Our armed forces are no different. For that reason, the chiefs and I strongly urge Congress to fully fund the defense health program as a strong signal that we are truly committed to providing health care for our troops.

"I can't think of a better way to renew the bonds of trust between Uncle Sam and our service members and retirees than this commitment to military health care and to quality health care."

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