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Wilson: Keep Troops Agile and Troop Levels Adequate

Contentious debate over spending in Washington, D.C., is nothing new and is an important part of our nation’s dialogue. We must prioritize and focus our resources on those things necessary to move our country forward.

As a veteran and father of four sons serving in our military, I believe there is no greater priority for the federal government than national defense. As the debate over budgeting moves forward, it will be vital that our military have the resources and personnel necessary to complete their missions.

Much of the public discussion over military funding tends to focus on the big-ticket items — fighter jets, naval vessels and other hardware. However, there is no substitute for the capability and professionalism of the men and women who wear the uniform.

This is a primary reason for expanding the size of our military personnel. Their experience and ability to react and adapt no matter the threat means we must put a premium on ensuring they have the resources and that our military commanders have the troop strength they need.

Right now our military is on track to complete an increase in the size of the Army and Marine Corps to 547,400 and 202,000 personnel respectively. This is the correct course of action, and it is encouraging that force strength increases have been met with bipartisan support and that so many young men and women are signing up to serve. I know firsthand that military service is a tremendous opportunity.

Despite the fact that we are engaged in two theaters of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as numerous other missions in the global war on terrorism, the size of our armed forces is still markedly smaller than it was at the end of the Cold War. Our forces are more agile and have more advanced technology today, and their capabilities have been improved despite the decrease in force size. However, the so-called peace dividend that was heralded during the 1990s and used to justify a decrease in our military does not apply today.

While we have not seen an attack on our homeland since 9/11, the threat of terrorism remains and there are growing threats from Iran and North Korea against America and our allies. Therefore, we must not be relaxed in our efforts to maintain a strong military force. While funding for our military is not immune to waste, we must not sacrifice our security in order to avoid making tough budgetary decisions elsewhere.

The federal budget as a whole must be pared down so that Washington stops running deficits and stops adding greater debt to our children’s future. However, our national defense, as outlined by our Founding Fathers, is the primary responsibility of the federal government. We should acknowledge that fact by ensuring a healthy and responsible defense budget — one that speaks to the near-term and long-term needs of our military and our national security while not forgetting that our military personnel are the most important asset we have.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen has stated that he supports a defense budget that is equivalent to 4 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product. That is a reasonable level to ensure we are allocating the necessary funding to protect American families. We can and will best promote peace through strength.

It is commendable and necessary to cut out waste, fraud and abuse from government spending. It is vital that we get Washington’s fiscal house in order — but not to the detriment of our national security or our military personnel.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is ranking member on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

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