It's time for Congress to fight for our soldiers

By:  Sen. Jim Inhofe

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We ask a lot of our military men and women. When they volunteer and take an oath to serve our nation in uniform, they understand it will likely mean extended periods away from their loved ones, often in far-off lands and often at great risk to their lives. 

What they shouldn’t expect, however, is that while they’re courageously serving in harm’s way they might receive a pink slip informing them that their services will no longer be needed and that they won’t have a job when they return home. Tragically, that’s exactly what happened to approximately 1,100 Army captains this month.

It was clear to me early on that preserving the readiness and war-fighting capabilities of our military would not be a priority of President Obama. This reality, coupled with the devastating impacts of defense sequestration, is wreaking havoc on the military and forcing our men and women in uniform to shoulder the burden.

In 2011, I warned that defense sequestration would lead to the hollowing out of our military and civilian furloughs, and program reductions would soon turn into our active-duty military receiving pink slips and the canceling of critical weapons programs. We are seeing this happen now with the forced separation of talented military leaders and with soldiers losing their jobs while serving on the front lines.

If defense sequestration continues, it is only going to get worse. Our Army could reach a level of 420,000 soldiers -- a size not seen since before World War II. Put simply, more soldiers will receive pink slips in the months and years ahead. It’s devastating for morale and even worse for our national security and Congress must do something about it. 

The Army has told me that they are committed to helping those who face forced retirement or discharge. Officers with less than 18 years of active service will be given 9 months to transition and are eligible for full separation pay as well as transition assistance counseling. However, many of us believe that more can and should be done.

As Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I supported numerous provisions in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act that will assist our soldiers being forced out of the military with access to higher education opportunities, ongoing transition counseling, and tools for job placement. We urgently need to bring up the NDAA before the full Senate so that we can debate these issues, go to conference with the House, and pass this vital bill for our military for the 53rd consecutive year. The men and women serving on the front lines and those who received notice of their forced separation continue to do their jobs and, rightfully, expect us in the Senate to do ours.

My heart goes out to these men and women risking their lives and making great sacrifices, yet are now being told they are being separated from the Army and will have no job when they return home to their families. By bringing up the NDAA as soon as possible, we will have an opportunity to provide the support these brave Americans and their families need during this difficult time.

These soldiers made a commitment to support the defense of the United States and we have a commitment to support them while in uniform and as they transition to civilian life. I urge my colleagues to push for the NDAA to come to the Senate floor so that we can fulfill this solemn commitment.

Sen. Jim Inhofe is a ranking member of Senate Armed Services Committee