Belton: Our Military’s Precarious Position

U.S. Special Operations personnel take cover to avoid flying debris as they prepare to board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a mission in Kunar province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 25, 2012. The soldiers are conducting reconnaissance for a future village stability platform, a site Afghan forces and coalition Special Operations Forces will use to live and work with villagers. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Clayton Weiss, U.S. Navy. (Released)

National defense is our government’s greatest responsibility, which is why I am grateful the new study committee I Chair is bringing together members of congress, state legislators and local leaders across the state to study how we can improve the military value of all nine of Georgia’s bases. The committee will travel to different bases throughout the state, and our first visit took place last week in Warner Robins, where our committee, along with former Sen. Saxby Chambliss, former Gov. Sonny Perdue and Congressmen Austin Scott and Sanford Bishop, discussed Robins and Moody Air Force bases (AFB).

The primary mission of Robins AFB is to preform depot-level maintenance on aircrafts like the C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules and F-15 Eagle. More than 6,000 airmen and 22,000 civilians work at Robins AFB where entire airplanes are torn apart and then put back together again, allowing older airplanes to keep flying. Additionally, Robins AFB creates another 33,000 off-base jobs resulting in a $2.7 billion impact. Furthermore, 25,000 retired veterans live near Warner Robins.

Moody AFB employs 5,000 airmen, 500 civilians where the primary responsibility is to maintain the 40-year-old A-10 Thunderbolt II, commonly referred to as the “Warthog.” This slow-moving tank killer is a favorite of the Army because no other plane can respond to an embattled soldier’s request for help as quickly and precisely as this aircraft. Moody AFB’s secondary responsibility is Search and Rescue (SAR) of downed pilots by H-60 Black Hawk helicopters and 50-year-old C-130 airplanes. Moody AFB creates 3,000 off-base jobs resulting in a $400 million impact, and similar to veterans living near Robins AFB, 18,000 retired veterans live near Valdosta.

During this first visit, the committee learned about the military’s colossal economic. The military is Georgia’s No. 1 job creator, employing almost 150,000 people. The military is one of our state’s top five industries and has an overall impact of $21 billion. We also learned that Georgia should expect another round of base closures no later than 2019. Although three years sounds like a long way off, we must prepare at least four years in advance to avoid losing more bases. This means we are already a year behind.

Although the Air Force is flying more now than ever before, the Air Force has never been smaller and its aircrafts have never been older. More missions are being flown by fewer airplanes, some of which will be between 80 and 100 years old before they are finally retired.

These issues are not unique to the Air Force. President Ronald Reagan’s 600 ship Navy has been reduced to half its original size, and plans for establishing a high-tech fleet were abandoned long ago due to budget woes. The Army scrapped a half-dozen future weapon systems and shed 20 percent of its soldiers while increasing deployments by 25 percent. Even worse, only half of the Air Force and a third of the Army, Navy and Marines are combat ready due to severe cuts in training. This is especially bad news because China, Russia and Iran are building new cyber systems, long range missiles and high-tech jets that rival our own. Have you noticed that Russia is now flying missions from Iranian bases? That is bad news for America and her allies.

Why is our military so depleted? Decades of budget cuts after the fall of the Soviet Union, along with the long, expensive war in the Middle East, have put our military in a precarious position. The recent sequestration and the Budget Control Act, an act that cut almost $1 trillion from defense spending, have made experts admit that the United States can no longer fight a two-theater war.

The alarming change in America’s posture towards the military is a national debate our congressional leaders should be aggressively pursuing. Locally, generals in Georgia are asking for more railroads to the Port of Savannah, increased internet bandwidth, reduced construction costs, investment in transportation and water and friendly licensure and education laws for transient military families. Robins AFB needs more STEM graduates to do the thousands of jobs that go unfilled every year.

American Warfighters are still the best in the world, but they are fewer and no longer employ the technological superiority they enjoyed just a decade ago.

The committee’s next visit will be at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany and Fort Benning.

About the author

Dave Belton

Ga. Rep. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, represents the citizens of District 112, which includes all of Morgan County and the eastern side of Newton County. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2014, and currently serves as a member of the Economic Development & Tourism, Education, and Interstate Cooperation committees.