By Donna Miles, AFPSJune 11, 2009
WASHINGTON, June 10, 2009 - The nation's top military officer told Congress yesterday the fiscal 2010 defense budget request puts money where it's needed: to recruit and retain the quality troops and their families who form the foundation of the all-volunteer force.
But Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee he's particularly proud of funds dedicated to carrying for wounded warriors.
"There is, in my view, no higher duty for this nation, or for those of us in leadership positions, than to care for those who sacrifice so much and who must now face lives forever changed by wounds both seen and unseen," Mullen told the Senate panel during a budget hearing.
Mullen thanked Congress for its continued support for wounded troops as well as families of the fallen. "Our commitment to all of them must be for the remainder of their lives," he said.
The fiscal 2010 budget request builds on support already in place by allocating funds to:
-- Complete construction of additional wounded warrior complexes;
-- Expand the pilot program designed to expedite the processing of injured troops through the disability evaluation system;
-- Increase the number of mental-health professionals assigned to deployed units; and
-- Devote more resources to the study and treatment of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.
Mullen praised other provisions in the budget that support what he called "the people account," improving servicemembers' quality of life through better pay, health care and other benefits.
These efforts, he reminded the panel, correlate directly to recruiting and retention, and to the success of the all-volunteer force.
"It is the recruit and the retain choices of our families -- and, quite frankly, American citizens writ large -- that will make or break the all-volunteer force," he said. "They will be less inclined to make those decisions should we not be able to offer them viable career options, adequate health care, suitable housing, advanced education and the promise of a prosperous life long after they've taken off the uniform."
Gates echoed this sentiment, telling the senators the budget request reaffirms U.S. commitment to taking care of the all-volunteer force, which he said "represents America's greatest strategic asset."
"As Admiral Mullen says, if we don't get the 'people' part of this business right, none of the other decisions will matter," Gates told the panel.
Other decisions represented in the budget request ensure the force is better balanced - not only so it's better postured for current and future threats, but also so it reduces stress on its members.
"After nearly eight years of war, we are the most capable and combat-experienced military we've ever been, [and] certainly, without question, the world's best counterinsurgency force," Mullen said. "Yet for all this success, we are pressed and still lack a proper balance, between [operational] tempo and home tempo, between unconventional and conventional capabilities, between readiness today and readiness tomorrow."
Mullen lauded the budget request's larger investments in "critical enablers," such as servicemembers skilled in aviation, special operations, cyber operations, civil affairs and language skills.
Another key initiative, which the Army announced last week, will cap the number of brigade combat teams at 45 - a goal to be reached in fiscal 2010 with the activation of the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas. This adjustment, Mullen told the senators, "helps ensure our ability to impact the fight sooner, increase dwell time and reduce our overall demand on equipment."
In addition to better positioning the military for the current conflicts and those on the horizon, Mullen said, the budget request includes a unique provision that authorizes Gates to transfer funds to the State Department as required to cover the costs of reconstruction, security and stabilization efforts. This, he said, recognizes the capabilities nonmilitary players can bring to the fight.
"It puts more civilian professionals alongside warfighters in more places like Iraq and Afghanistan," Mullen said. "I've said it before, but it bears repeating. More boots on the ground are important, but they will never be completely sufficient. We need people with graphing tablets and shovels and teaching degrees. We need bankers and farmers and law enforcement experts."
Gates said America owes its servicemembers the support they need to succeed in their missions and the quality of life they and their families have earned.
"As I told a group of soldiers in Afghanistan, they have done their job," he said. "Now it is time for us in Washington to do ours."