It is a privilege to be serving on the House Armed Services Committee, especially coming from a state where the military has such an important presence.
All four branches of the armed forces have major bases in Hawaii. The state is home not only to Naval Station Pearl Harbor but also to Hickam Air Force Base, a pair of Marine installations and the Army’s Schofield Barracks, Fort Shafter and Tripler Army Medical Center.
The committee’s top priority is the safety and security of our country, not just for today but for the future. There will be differences and debates about how we believe this is best accomplished — especially at a time when our nation is emerging from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. We need to re-evaluate all our security programs and then separate the effective ones from programs that are outdated, inefficient or duplicative.
We must be fiscally responsible, but we also have to ensure that our troops have all the equipment and weapons necessary to defend themselves and our great nation.
The Armed Services Committee will oversee more than $700 billion in outlays for fiscal 2012 ($553 billion in base), and we must work in a bipartisan fashion to spend within our means and allocate that money responsibly and efficiently.
Military spending accounts for 70 percent of all federal procurement, and how we use that money affects the safety of the U.S. and the stability of the world. That’s why one of my top priorities is to promote the military as a clandestine diplomatic corps. When we deploy our troops to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, we are sending armed representatives of our nation to interact with cultures and communities that know very little about the United States.
We also cannot discuss the evolving role of the military without recognizing what has happened in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and the rest of the Middle East. I contend that the military has assumed a role in world politics that goes well beyond the defensive. Our armed forces are no longer just the military of the most powerful nation in the world; they’re also our ambassadors to the world and the individuals responsible for embodying and conveying American beliefs, values and strategies.
The treatment of our military and civilian personnel is a critical issue. There needs to be a balance struck among the military and civilian personnel, as well as contractors who are given work through both insourcing and outsourcing. Personnel planning cannot be driven by knee-jerk reactions to budget situations. We must look at it as an opportunity to strategically manage our workforce, define our objections and compromise accordingly.
A key part of the Defense Department’s responsibility is caring for the families of our men and women in combat. We cannot forget that our military men and women are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. And so, when they fight to protect our country, we have an obligation to look after their families back home. The education of their children is paramount along with the environment in which they wait out their years of service. We must pay heed to this.
And this obligation continues to our veterans and those who retire or are injured. We have to provide health care, counseling services, and physical and emotional rehabilitation.
Training, education, research and development are integral to the military’s role in the world, and the Defense Department can help define the United States for the rest of the world as a leader in human innovation. We must be proactive, rather than reactive, when we think of how best to structure our military and national defense.
To properly defend is also to ensure that we have the best up-to-date information to deter any attacks, such as a nuclear or biological assault. It is to peacefully hold other nations in check by showing that the U.S. cannot be leveraged into anything by a simple show of force.
We must continue to educate, train and care for our armed forces and their families. They are our defenders and they are the ones who carry America’s image and values abroad. They must be a ready force and well-supplied so our allies remain confident and our enemies remain wary and respectful.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is the only freshman Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. She was elected with 53 percent against Republican incumbent Charles Djou in Hawaii’s 1st district (Oahu — Honolulu, Waipahu, Pearl City).