Washington, DC–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today made the following remarks supporting the Hagel-Webb Amendment to improve troop readiness and America’s ability to respond to threats around the world.
Mr. President, I am very pleased to join as a co-sponsor of this important amendment, and I applaud Senators Hagel and Webb for returning the focus of the Senate to the issue of our troops and their readiness.
There is a lot of talk around here about “supporting the troops,” but too often, we don’t take the kind of action that can achieve that goal. Yesterday, when the Senate voted to maintain the language on changing course in Iraq – that was a good day for our country and for our troops, who may finally get the new policy they deserve.
With yesterday’s vote, the Senate finally acknowledged reality in Iraq. The President’s policy is not working. It is time to change course.
This bipartisan position was backed up in the papers today. USA Today and the Associated Press have an article detailing how the surge is not working. Baghdad may be quieter, but according to the news outlets, insurgents have taken their attacks elsewhere.
Nationwide, the number of deaths from car bombs has decreased slightly since the Baghdad security operation began, according to a tally by the AP. However, the death toll from car bombs has more than doubled in areas outside the capital, compared to the previous six-week period.
Violence has not stopped in Iraq.
Earlier today, Shiite militants, including reportedly local police, went on a violent, vengeful rampage. When it ended, nearly two hours later, as many as 60 Sunnis were reported killed. The victims were men between the ages of 15 and 60, killed with a shot to the back of the head.
Mr. President, these reports fly in the face of what we heard in the Senate yesterday, and what we constantly hear from President Bush.
The idea that the surge is working, or that it needs more time, is a fantasy. What we see today in Iraq – months into the surge – is more of the same… the same violence… the same chaos… the same loss of life we have seen over the last four years.
After more than four years of war… over 3,200 of our brave men and women killed… and over $400 billion spent… it is long past time to change course in Iraq.
If, yesterday, the Senate acknowledged the reality of the Iraq war, today we must acknowledge the reality of what the Iraq war is doing to our military and their ability to defend this nation.
We have no better advocates to learn from than Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb. The authors of this amendment have authority on this subject based on their experience in battle.
These two men are authorities on war and the military. All of us would be wise to heed their counsel.
Mr. President, Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb are heroes.
This morning, I got up early and went to Walter Reed. I met there a new generation of heroes, men and women who were injured and serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was accompanied by my friend, the distinguished senator from Washington, Senator Murray.
To say, Mr. President, that I left Walter Reed depressed is an understatement. We’ve all heard the stories about Walter Reed. I have two observations from my visit. I’ve been there on other occasions and I had two observations from my visit today. First, private contracting is destroying the ability of the military to care for our troops. Go to Walter Reed. Listen to the parents. Listen to the people that are hurt.
I was walking into Walter Reed and I introduced myself to a man in civilian clothes and he told me who he was. He is a college graduate. I said, “What do you do?” He said, “I am an industrial hygienist. I am one of the guys that go around trying to make sure that places are sanitary and safe.” I said, “How are you doing?” He said, “Terrible.” He said because of contracting out, “we went from 15 industrial hygienists at Walter Reed to 5, so contracting is hurting our ability to care for our troops.”
My second observation – our ability to care for our troops. A soldier said it best. He was sitting there, his leg cut off at mid thigh. He said “everyone thinks that this is my problem.” He said, “That’s not my problem. It’s this leg.” And he had a leg that was terribly mutilated – calf blown off, dropped foot, scars all up and down. He said, “I’m really fortunate because I’m alive. We amputees are treated pretty well. It’s the people with the injuries you can’t see that are having a difficult time. That’s the way it is.”
One young man from Cincinnati, Ohio, just turned 20 years old. A big man. He said, “I only got shot once.” He had a protective vest and was shot in the stomach and it did not hurt too badly. He said, “I survived multiple explosive devices. My friend was vaporized sitting right next to me.” He is now, Mr. President, in big trouble emotionally and mentally. He has a lot of problems. He said, “I have nightmares. I sweat, I become violent. I can’t remember anything. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” He was one of number that we visited there, Mr. President.
Mr. President, Walter Reed is metaphor for what’s happening to our military as a whole. It is stretched too thin.
We do not have a single army unit that’s not deployed already. It would take $40 billion to bring the guard alone to what it was before the war. The dual wars have badly strained our military and reduced our military readiness to levels not seen for a long, long time. Not a single unit, non-deployed army unit, I repeat, is combat ready. Multiple and extended deployments have reduced readiness, damaged recruiting, retention, and morale. Units have been sent into battle without proper training and equipment, in my opinion.
That is not supporting the troops. That is breaking the force. We have to do better.
This is not just my opinion. It is the opinion of current and former senior army officers.
“The active Army is about broken.” — Colin Powell, Former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [CBS' "Face the Nation," December 17, 2006]
“We can’t sustain the [National Guard and Reserves] on the course we’re on.” — Arnold L. Punaro, Chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves [March 2, 2007]
“To meet combatant commanders’ immediate wartime needs, we pooled equipment from across the force to equip soldiers deploying in harm’s way . . . This practice, which we are continuing today, increases risk for our next-to-deploy units and limits our ability to respond to emerging strategic contingencies.” — General Peter Schoomaker, Chief of Staff of the United States Army [January 23, 2007]
I spoke yesterday of a man in my security detail on his way to Iraq for the THIRD time. Sadly, his story is the norm, not the exception. Of the Army’s combat brigades, all but the one permanently based in South Korea have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Of those brigades:
– 12 have been deployed once
– 20 have been deployed twice
– 9 have been deployed three times
– 2 have been deployed four times
Today, we have soldiers serving in Iraq who have been fighting in battle for over a year. We have other soldiers – - who are on their way to Iraq – - after having been home with their families for less than 12 months.
That is not supporting the troops. That is breaking the force.
Our men and women cannot and should not continue to bear the burden of this mismanaged war.
We have to do better. That’s why the Hagel-Webb Amendment is so important.
This amendment will ensure our troops have the equipment they need before they go into battle. It explicitly states that troops must have the training and equipment they need – or they cannot be sent overseas.
This amendment will also enhance the quality of life for troops and their families, and as a result, improve recruiting and retention. It says that after our brave men and women serve 365 days in Iraq, they are entitled to a significant period of rest back home before they can be redeployed.
In short, the Hagel-Webb Amendment will improve readiness and our ability to respond to other threats and project power around the world
Mr. President, we live in a dangerous world. We face many threats. From destroying Al Qaeda to deterring Iran and North Korea from gaining nuclear weapons, there are critical challenges around the world America must confront. Unfortunately, we have a military stretched too thin to meet these challenges, because this Administration has stretched it to the breaking point in Iraq.
After years of overuse and neglect, we must reinvest in the military. With the Hagel-Webb Amendment, we make a down payment on rebuilding our fighting force and keeping our families safe.
I appreciate these two combat veterans, these two unique and good United States senators leading us down this road that we must be led.