By Spc. Adeline WitherspoonJuly 26, 2016
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -Twenty-four bipartisan congressional staff delegates received a harsh awakening here, July 19, courtesy of I Corps' 7th Infantry Division.
The visiting delegates ran laps and dragged litters alongside Soldiers to gain a better understanding of the resources and training it takes to maintain the Army's position as the backbone of military operations in the Pacific.
"I'm here with a congressional delegation of individuals who work for different members of Congress to figure out how we can better help assist and understand the military," said Brandon Batch, a visiting delegate for Republican Representative Michael McCaul of Texas. "We need to be able to see first-hand the consequences of the policy decisions that come out of Washington."
The three day visit began July 18with a tour of JBLM and myriad of briefings explaining I Corps mission in the Pacific and around the world.
"I think it's important that we better understand what the military does," said Batch. "I think, oftentimes, there's a bit of a disconnect about why things happen and the consequences of the decisions that we make in Washington."
To get a taste of what Army life is like, the staffers rode in Stryker vehicles, personnel carriers that can get Soldiers in and out of battle quickly, and spent an afternoon at the range.
"The best thing I've done so far is shooting the M-4, and getting my hands on some of the weapons that the military uses," said Batch. "I think the best thing that's come out of this trip for me personally is getting to talk with some of the Soldiers and hearing from them what they see as some of the damages that the military is currently taking on as a result of increased or decreased funding."
The Army has been experiencing budget cuts as a result of the sequestration that began in 2013.
"The staffers work for members of Congress and members of Congress are the ones that approve the National Defense Authorization Act," said Lt. Col. Christopher L'Heureux, an Army congressional liaison accompanying the staffers. "They are the ones that appropriate money for us to do things and they're also the ones who pass budgets. All of those things have a huge impact on readiness, so our intent is to bring out these folks and show them exactly what we have to do in order to maintain readiness."
The visitors also saw the integral part Yakima Training Center in eastern Washington plays in maintaining a ready and deployable Army.
"If you want to maneuver forces, you can't do that at JBLM," said L'Heureux. "You have to use this place, and now they can really see what the Army needs to be able to do, so we need to be able to train, which means we need to have the money to do that."
Staff delegates were treated to demonstrations of the M1A1 Tank by Company B, 4th Tank Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, and explosive ordnance equipment with the 53rd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 3rd Ordnance Battalion. They also received a tour of the Washington Army National Guard Mobilization and Training Equipment Site.
"If our nation calls, this is the cost, and they need to know that to be able to talk to their bosses in a knowledgeable way about what's important to the military services," said L'Heureux. "If we're going to send our Solders into harms way, this is what they need to be able to do to be prepared."
Using the knowledge gained from this visit, delegates will be better able to advise lawmakers about the effects of policy decisions on today's Army.
"What I plan on doing is taking what I've learned here and briefing my member on what we saw, what the military needs so that way my boss can make the most informed decisions possible when it comes to how he votes on the bill," said Batch. "His job as a lawmaker is to act in the best interest of the country, and our military is a critically important part of that."