Case calls military
spending a ‘priority’
U.S. Rep. Ed Case says the Bush administration's request for an additional $80 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan came as no surprise.
Case, who returned to his Capitol Hill office yesterday after spending the weekend with soldiers from Hawaii in the 29th Brigade Combat Team in Louisiana, told reporters via a conference call that "clearly it always was the game plan to go with a supplemental (budget) early this year.
"You don't maintain troop strength at this level on two fronts," said Case, who last year visited with soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, "without spending money."
The Hawaii Democrat said the request, which will supplement $25 billion already approved by Congress last year, has to be a "priority."
"I see no other alternative."
After his two-day visit to Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center, Case said Congress will have to find long-term solutions to the problems of recruitment and retention of the National Guard and the Reserve.
Case said one of the challenges Congress now faces is maintaining a force of 150,000 in the field for possibly two more years.
Of the 3,500 soldiers assigned to the 29th Brigade Combat Team, 2,200 are from Hawaii and the Pacific basin.
The 29th Brigade, whose soldiers are now leaving Fort Polk for several weeks of orientation in Kuwait before starting a yearlong combat tour in Iraq, are part of a mix of U.S. troops in a force rotation that is about 50 percent active duty and 50 percent reserves.
The current Iraqi and Afghan campaigns could not have been undertaken without the heavy reliance on the National Guard and Reserve, Case said.
Currently, there are no real incentives for a soldier to remain in the National Guard or the Reserves after the age of 30, except for "the love of being in the Guard or the Reserve," he said.
He said some of the members of the 29th Brigade have had to make severe financial sacrifices when they were forced to give up their civilian jobs.
Case also said he isn't as concerned as some of his Democratic colleagues that more than 88 percent of Hawaii's 3,000 Army National Guard soldiers are on active duty.
He said there are at least 2,000 Hawaii Air National Guard personnel to provide civil and natural disaster aid.
The Hawaii congressman also said he believes that complaints raised by soldiers and family members of inadequate training and equipment while they were stationed in Texas for nearly three months have been answered.
"They have the equipment," Case said. "They all have the vests for protection against bullets. They have been validated. That's like saying they passed their final report card."