Mark Esper to be President’s Army Secretary Nominee

mark esper

By Debbie Gregory.

After two failed attempts at appointing an Army Secretary, President Trump has selected Raytheon executive Mark Esper as his third and hopefully final nomination.

The first pick, Wall Street trader and businessman Vincent Viola, dropped out due to financial entanglements involving federal contracts. Viola is a West Point graduate and former major in the Army Reserves.

The second pick, TN State Senator and former Army flight surgeon Mark Green, withdrew his name after criticism from activists and Democrats for past statements he made on LGBT issues.

Esper has an impressive resume; a West Point grad, he served in the Gulf War, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army.

After leaving the Army, Esper worked as a Pentagon civilian, a Hill staffer, serving as an aide to both Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NB). He was director of National Security Affairs for Senate Majority Leader Frist, and served as the legislative director and senior policy adviser for Hagel, who went on to become secretary of defense.

Esper was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiations policy, responsible for arms control, nonproliferation, international agreements and matters with the United Nations.

Esper is Raytheon’s vice-president for government relations. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) as well as other senators, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Corey Booker (D-NJ) has expressed opposition to placing industry executives in top defense postings.

McCain was absent for former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan’s confirmation vote for Deputy Secretary of Defense due to surgery. McCain’s recent cancer diagnosis makes his role in Esper’s confirmation uncertain.

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Newest Aircraft Carrier Has Issues With Planes Landing and Taking Off

ford ship

By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Navy took delivery of its newest and costliest U.S. aircraft carrier on May 31st , which should be great news.

But it turns out that the system used to launch and capture jets to and from the USS Gerald R. Ford is having issue doing both.

While the Navy reports that the landing system has been fixed, the carrier hasn’t received clearance to launch F/A-18 jets yet. The catapult problem, which was discovered in 2014, limits how much combat fuel can be carried in planes being launched from the carrier’s deck.

The aircraft are limited as to the types of missions that they can accomplish without added under-wing fuel tanks.

John McCain, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has been a vocal critic of the Navy’s management of the Ford program.

While it’s encouraging to see the Ford “finally delivered to the Navy,” the Arizona Republican said the Navy’s funding request for it exceeds the congressional budget cap by $20 million. The third and final ship of the planned three-ship, $42 billion Ford class of carriers is projected to cost $1.6 billion more than the second one.

“This is unacceptable for a ship certified to be a repeat design that will deliver just three years later,” McCain said.

Most of the cost increase was due to an underfunded technology phase that didn’t allow enough time for the discovery and correction of problems.

The ship is named after the 38th President of the United States Gerald R. Ford, whose World War II naval service included combat duty aboard the light aircraft carrier Monterey in the Pacific Theater.

The Navy still has time to fix the catapult issue. Although the Ford has been delivered, the ship is not scheduled to be declared ready for operations until 2020, with first actual deployment planned for about 2022, according to Navy spokeswoman Captain Thurraya Kent.

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Senators Push for Sanctions Against Russia


By Debbie Gregory.

Legislation with bipartisan support that would increase sanctions against Russia for its alleged interference in November’s U.S. presidential election was introduced in the Senate.

Among the bill’s chief and co-sponsors are Senators Ben Cardin, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio.

The legislation – called the “Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017 – is designed to show that key Republicans are intent on punishing Russia despite Trump’s desire to strengthen bilateral ties.

The measure was introduced four days after the U.S. intelligence community released a declassified version of a report accusing Russia of meddling in the election.

The new sanctions would impose visa bans and freeze the assets of “those who undermine the cybersecurity of public or private infrastructure and democratic institutions,” according to a summary of the legislation. It would also impose sanctions on transactions with the Russian defense and intelligence sectors, potentially making it harder for banks to do business with the Russian military and spy agencies.

The measure would authorize $100 million for the State Department and other U.S. agencies to counter Russian propaganda.

If the bill becomes law, the Trump administration would not be required to implement the sanctions. Senator Cardin said a waiver probably would be included in the bill to allow the president to waive the sanctions if it is in the best interests of the U.S.

“There’s separation of branches of government that you have to respect,” Cardin said. “We are not the enforcing arm. We set the policy, but the president has the responsibility to carry out the laws that we’ve passed. There’s ways that we can provide for accountability, but we don’t impose sanctions. It’s done by the administration.”

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Continuing Resolution Will Keep Government Running


By Debbie Gregory.

A temporary spending bill signed by President Obama will keep the funded through April of next year, and includes the Pentagon’s highest procurement priorities.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers introduced the short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) (H.R. 2028) to prevent a government shutdown and continue funding for federal programs and services until April 28, 2017. The legislation also contains funding for emergency disaster relief.

The Senate voted 63-36 to pass the 70-page continuing resolution that was released by the House Appropriations Committee.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain was one of 13 Republicans who voted nay. McCain characterized the bill as shortchanging defense.

“This is absolutely disgraceful,” McCain said. “We’re going to kick the can down the road because we failed to fund our troops. The fiscal irresponsibility [of] another continuing resolution, which will force the Department of Defense to operate for seven months of the fiscal year without a real budget. Tell me one company or corporation in the world, small or large, that has their budget frozen for seven months of the year and you expect to operate with any kind of efficiency. You can’t.”

Congress ended this year by abandoning regular order, as GOP leaders expect to give the new administration a chance to put its stamp on federal spending. Congress only passed one of 12 appropriations bill this year.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Defense Secretary Ash Carter complained that the lengthy continuing resolution, through the presidential transition, was “unprecedented and unacceptable” and urged Congress to reject it.

The CR extends funding for operations for most federal agencies, programs and services and maintains the current budget cap level of $1.07 trillion put into place under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

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Senate Reduces BAH for Servicemembers Who Reside Together


By Debbie Gregory.

How would you feel if your employer cut your salary because you and a co-worker were living together?

Well, the Senate has approved a fiscal 2017 defense authorization that calls for reduced housing allowances as part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943), with 85 senators in support and just 13 opposing.

The verbiage states that servicemembers who share off-base housing stateside will have the benefit cut.

The Senate wants the housing benefit for military troops to be more like the one offered to the State Department’s foreign service officers, who are compensated for actual rental or housing costs.

Beginning January 1, 2018, the Senate legislation sets the allowance for new entrants at “the actual monthly cost of housing” or an amount “based on the costs of adequate housing” for each military housing area, according to a copy of the legislation. It also states two or more service members occupying the same housing would split the allowance.

The BAH amount caps individual monthly payments to the lesser of two amounts: either what individuals actually pay to rent housing or to a local BAH maximum based on their rank and dependency status.

Last year the Senate proposed two other controversial changes to BAH. Neither survived final negotiations with the House.

The Senate committee under John McCain has said that the perception of housing allowances has become distorted from the original intent, which was to provide a housing benefit for servicemembers in recognition of the transient nature of military service, and in further recognition of the reality that civilian spouses are often unemployed and sacrifice careers of their own.

The DOD has made BAH integral to its calculation of Regular Military Compensation, which is used to compare compensation to civilian salaries and track the adequacy of military pay.

Although it’s a done-deal, what do you think? Is this fair?

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Senators McCain and Graham Call for Troops to Battle IS


By Debbie Gregory.

Republicans Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have called for an increase in military force in Iraq and Syria.

They want to see 10,000 troops in each country as part of a multinational ground force to counter Islamic State (IS).

They are both critical of the president’s strategy in fighting IS, which relies on air strikes and modest support to local ground forces, and expressed that U.S. personnel could provide logistical and intelligence support to a proposed 100,000-strong force from Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Both Russia and Iran have increased their military support for President Bashar al-Assad’s fight against rebels in Syria’s four-and-a-half year civil war.

Graham said that if the U.S. leads a regional force to fight IS in Syria and removes Assad from power, it will find support from Arab leaders.

“We were talking to the now-King of Saudi Arabia (Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud) before he became king and he told John McCain, who he admires greatly, ‘You can have our army, you just gotta deal with Assad.’ The emir of Qatar said ‘I’ll pay for the operation,’ Graham said. “But they’re not going to just fight ISIL and let Damascus fall into the hands of the Iranians. Assad has to go.”

U.S. counter-terrorism experts have warned that deploying ground troops risks backfiring by feeding Islamic State’s apocalyptic narrative that it is defending Islam against an assault by the West and its authoritarian Arab allies.

McCain said it would be possible but not easy to rally Arab allies to contribute to the proposed ground force in Syria.

“The question… is being asked all over the capitals of the West right now,” he said. “(Arab) countries for a long time have not seen what’s happening as a direct threat to them. Now I believe that they do.”

Graham said an increased American presence in Iraq would include forward air controllers and aviation assets as well as Special Forces.

Iraqi politicians have voiced opposition to an increase in U.S. forces.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.