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Defense Bill Critical to Maintaining America’s Global Response Force

By Sens. Richard M. Burr and Thom Tillis Today, the United States faces unparalleled threats to our homeland, the likes of which we have not seen since the dawn of 9/11. The Islamic State terror group has quickly emerged as a murderous and destabilizing terrorist force, far from the “JV” organization it was once labeled. The Iranian regime has never been closer to developing a nuclear weapon capability. An emboldened Russia continues to fill the existing leadership vacuum across the globe, now coordinating with Iran and the Assad-led Syrian regime to spread their sphere of influence to the Middle East.  

While those of us in Congress may have differences in how our nation should confront these threats, we can all agree that we must work together toward common sense solutions to mitigate risk and prioritize the safety and security of all Americans. Cutting apart our nation’s defense budget at the expense of our military readiness, training, and capability is not a common sense solution.  

As senators who represent North Carolina, a state that has more active duty military servicemembers than some states have people, we keenly understand the need to protect our brave men and women in uniform and provide them with the resources and tools they need to maintain our position as a global military leader.  

This week, a conference committee released the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. The bipartisan NDAA is vital to strategically and appropriately funding our military while ensuring our Global Response Force is adequately trained and prepared at a moment’s notice. Included in this critical funding bill, the conference committee incorporated an amendment to help secure the C-130H Aircraft presence at Fort Bragg’s Pope Airfield in eastern North Carolina — the busiest airfield in the world for tactical training.  

The 440th Airlift Wing’s C-130H presence at Pope Airfield is imperative to our military readiness — it is the nation’s leading global response unit. Our men and women serving at Pope Airfield are the only members of the military who can be ready and active in a hostile situation within 18 hours of the president’s orders. Yet, despite its invaluable strategic and security importance, the Department of Defense and Air Force have worked for quite some time to shutter the Airlift wing based on entirely misguided budgetary considerations.  

We have met with leaders on the ground at Fort Bragg and Pope Airfield, and spoken with them extensively about their needs. It is abundantly clear that the Pentagon’s announcement last year to shutter the 440th Airlift Wing was strategically short-sighted and fundamentally flawed. In a time when we face such severe threats to our homeland, it is alarming that Air Force bureaucrats are so openly willing to prioritize budget cuts above the readiness of our military; willing to prioritize the Administration’s support of sequestration above our national security and the protection of all Americans.  

Pope Airfield is just one of many examples of the grave national security risks of budget cuts and sequestration to our military supported by the Obama administration. We cannot and must not lose this battle.  

We applaud the conference committee for their resolute determination to ensure we appropriately prioritize our national security. The NDAA not only includes statutes for acquisition reform, military retirement reform and a $10 billion reinvestment into military capabilities, the NDAA includes much deserved pay raises for all service members.  

Members of Congress are set to pass this bipartisan legislation to prioritize our military readiness and safety and security of the greatest nation in the world. President Barack Obama must quickly sign it into law, sending a message to the world that the United States stands united as one, able to defend itself and willing to protect its interests at home and abroad.  

Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee
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