November 03, 2017
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), yesterday questioned four military nominees during their nomination hearing. The four nominees included Dr. Mark T. Esper to be Secretary of the Army, the Honorable Robert L. Wilkie to be Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Mr. Joseph D. Kernan to be Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Mr. Guy B. Roberts to be Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Nuclear, Chemical And Biological Defense Programs.
Inhofe: “I have to say I want to blow a little smoke at you guys, because in the thirty years I’ve been on either the House or the Senate Armed Services Committee, I’ve never seen a group of nominees more qualified than you four. I think we are going to turn this corner now because we have the right people at the helm. I want to ask one question, the same question of all four of you. Because one of our problems—when I was trying to explain to people over the last eight years what is happening to our military—the threat that we are facing and different than any threat we have faced before. I didn’t have the credibility to sell that, but when the uniforms start talking about I, then that makes a big difference. I am very proud of them to tell the unvarnished truth about the problems we have.
“When General Allen testified before this committee that only a third of our brigade combat teams were working or ready, a fourth of our air brigades in half of our divisions were ready. Then, General Dunford said to this committee—It was pretty shocking— he said, “If we don’t address this dynamic with sustained, sufficient and predictable funding over the course of several years, we will lose our qualitative and quantitative competitive advantage.” That’s a pretty shocking statement. I would like to ask two questions of each one of you, just yes or no questions. One, do you agree with the statements by Generals Allen and Dunford?”
Wilkie, Esper, Kernan, Roberts replied together: Yes.
Inhofe then asked: Secondly, would you be as just as straightforward and honest about very uncomfortable subjects, such as the threat we are facing, as these uniforms?
Wilkie, Esper, Kernan, Roberts, again, replied together: Yes, sir.
Senator Inhofe then asked: “I believe you will, too. And it’s not just the uniforms that are important, but the secretaries are important. I have very much of a concern about that. Dr. Esper, General Milley wrote—talking about the goal of the sustained readiness—he said that the goal of the Army’s sustained readiness model is to have 66 percent, not to maintain because we are not there now, but to achieve sixty six percent of the force in a combat ready status at any moment by the year 2023. Now, would you say that under this model, do you think that we are on track to reach that goal?”
Dr. Esper replied: “Senator, my understanding is that the army is on track to reach that goal. My personal view is that’s not fast enough. So, if confirmed I would like to look at ways, working with the chief and senior Army leaders, to find if there are ways to accelerate that, particularly given the challenges we face right now in the international scene.”
Sen. Inhofe replied: “Let me also compliment you, because the answer you gave to Senator Reed’s questions—talking about our acquisition problems, in a definitive answer, on how to address that—was a very good answer. Mr. Wilkie, I remember so well, the guy that has always been a real hero to me was Jesse Helms and I remember going to his funeral. You and I sat next to each other and we talked about that and so I would say, to my friend Senator Tillis, that’s one of the main things that I look at when I look at you and your extensive service that you’ve had in the past. I am grateful to know you understand our readiness challenge. I chair the readiness committee and I’ve been very concerned about where we are today and, in terms of your top priority going forward, how has our budget cuts in the BCA affected our military readiness capacity and capabilities. It’s important to answer this question now because of what we are in the midst of and the debate that is going on today.”
Mr. Wilkie replied: “Senator, if we start from the premise that we have never faced the breadth of the strategic challenges that we have now, that leads you to only one answer. Unless the Department of Defense has a steady and understandable stream of financing to plan for the years ahead—as any other business would have—that it will not be capable of playing in a field where we continue to have an unfair advantage over our adversaries.”
Sen. Inhofe asked: “It’s a good answer, but it’s unfortunate. I am concerned, though, about a statement that was made, or a fact is out there we don’t seem to talk about, is that only about a quarter of today’s 17 to 24-year-olds are eligible for military service. Of that population, even a smaller number are interested in enlisting or commissioning. Now, I was a product of the draft. So, I’d like to see what are some of the innovative opportunities we have to expand that pool. What are some of the options we have out there?”
Mr. Wilkie replied: “Sir, as you say, it’s a society-wide problem. What I don’t believe the department has done as we have moved into the 21st century is adopt the modes of information collection that America’s young people have. We have not mastered social media, we have not mastered something that I consider to be fundamental. That is online recruiting across the country. We’ve also had situations in the last 15-20 years where the first experience that our youth at one time had with the military—if they were not from a community tied to an installation—was Junior ROTC. We are losing those units across the country. Now obviously in a time of budget crunching, that’s probably low on the list. But, if you are looking at the long-term, if you are looking at trying to change the perception of young Americans, those kinds of interactions and the ability of the government through the department to adapt to the way young people think is vital or we will never get caught up.”
Sen. Inhofe concluded by stating: “My time has expired, but that is a great answer. I appreciate that very much. Thank you Mr. Chairman.”