Senate Democrats

Reid: Bipartisan Webb-Hagel Amendment Would Begin Critical Process Of Rebuilding Our Overburdened Military

Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate in support of the Webb-Hagel Amendment to enhance military readiness. 

Below are Reid’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

“The fight to end the war in Iraq – and refocus our efforts against those who attacked us on 9/11 – has now raged in this chamber and throughout this country for many, many months, now years.  On one side, Democrats stand united: to responsibly end the war; to begin to bring our brave troops home; and to refocus our attention to Osama bin Laden, his Al Qaeda operatives, and others around the world who seek to do us harm.

“On the other side, most of our Republican colleagues – including some who have publicly questioned the current course – stand with the President and his failed policies.  Seven Republicans have previously voted courageously for this amendment.

“We will not stop waging the hard but necessary fight to responsibly end the war.  Today we have the chance to take an important step in that direction by voting for an amendment that all of us – Democrat or Republican – can and should agree upon.  Regardless of where we stand on the war, we should stand as one in our commitment to keeping our military the strongest in the world.  And we can only sustain that strength if our men and women in uniform are given the respect they deserve and the opportunity to reset and rebuild their capabilities.  That’s not a Democratic talking point or a Republican talking point – it is common sense.  And it’s long overdue.

“On this President’s watch, our military and their families have been stretched to the breaking point.

  • Every single one of the Army’s 38 available combat brigades are either deployed, just returning or scheduled to go to Iraq or Afghanistan – leaving no fresh troops to replace the five extra brigades sent to Iraq earlier this year.
  • Most Army brigades have completed two or even three tours in Iraq or Afghanistan already, with one – the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division – having served four tours.
  • The Army has been forced to rely on $20,000 ‘quick-ship’ bonuses to meet recruiting goals – in part to make up for last year’s shortage of 3,000 officers – a number that is only projected to rise.
  • 80 percent of our National Guard and Reserves have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and they are serving an average of 18 months per deployment.
  • Those National Guard and Reserves remaining here in the United States have just 30 percent of the essential equipment they need, because so much of it has been shipped overseas, destroyed, in need of repair and obsolete.
  • And we have all heard of the heavy personal toll this overburdening of the military is taking.

“Here are just two of many, many examples: First, the heartbreaking story of Army Private First Class Travis Virgadamo of Las Vegas.  Travis loved his country and loved serving in the military.  He saw it as his calling.  Yet after months of serving in Iraq – as he described it, ‘being ordered into houses without knowing what was behind strangers’ doors…walking along roadsides fearing the next step could trigger lethal explosives.”

“The horrors were more than Travis could take.  He sought therapy and mental health care while overseas.  He came home.  He was not emotionally prepared to go back.  He knew so and his family knew so, too.  But he was given some medicine and sent back for a second tour of duty.  During that tour, Travis took his own life.  He was just 19 years old.  Is this fair to him or to those other troops he served with and who relied upon him for their own safety?  The ordeal he went through was, sadly, far from unique.  Last year, the Veterans’ Affairs Department reported that more than 56,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan had been diagnosed with mental illness.  Many of them have been sent back into battle without receiving adequate care.

“A second example: Sergeant Anthony J. Schober, a 23-year-old from Northern Nevada, who was killed in May in an ambush while serving his fourth tour of duty.  I had the chance to speak with Anthony’s grandfather.  Before returning to Iraq for the last time, Anthony told his grandfather that he just knew he wouldn’t be coming home this time.  He survived too many explosions and he saw too many of his buddies killed. 

“Travis and Anthony died as heroes.  Our troops are all heroes, but they are not machines.  They have sacrificed so much for us and asked for so little in return.  With gratitude for their service and recognition that our national security demands no less, I rise to once again support the amendment offered by my friend and colleague, Senator Webb, and cosponsored by dozens of others.

“Senator Webb’s readiness amendment begins the critical and long overdue process of rebuilding our badly overburdened military.  And who better qualified to author an amendment on troop readiness than Jim Webb – a Naval Academy graduate, Marine Corps Commander, winner of the Silver Star, the Navy Cross, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts – and a Secretary of the Navy.

“The Webb amendment is simple: It states that if a member of the active military is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they are entitled to the same length of time back home before they can be redeployed.  It also states that members of the Reserves may not be redeployed within three years of their original deployment – which will not only give them time to recover from deployment, but will restore our reserve forces ability and availability to respond to emergencies here at home.

“Some have tried to confuse this issue by calling it an infringement of presidential authority.  That argument has long ago been debunked.  Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress to ‘make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.’  This argument is undercut even further by the fact that this amendment provides ample authority for the President to waive these requirements in the case of an emergency that threatens our national security.  The Webb amendment establishes a new policy, but it does not tie the President or the Congress’s hands to respond to an emergency.

“If we are committed to building a military that is fully equipped and prepared to address the challenges we face throughout the world – and I know we are – then we must support this amendment.  If we are committed to repaying in some small measure the sacrifices our brave troops are making every day – and I know we are – then we must support this amendment. 

“The decision by Republican leadership to thwart the will of the majority in this body from adopting this troop readiness amendment back in July was discouraging.  And after three more months of keeping our troops enmeshed in a civil war, their continued effort to undermine this legislation today is simply inexplicable to me.

“If Republicans oppose troop readiness – they are entitled to vote against it.  If Republicans don’t believe that our courageous men and women in uniform deserve more rest and mental health, they can vote no on this amendment.  If they don’t agree that constant redeployments and recruiting shortages are straining our armed forces, they can vote no on this amendment.  If they believe it is in our national security interest to push our brave troops and their families beyond their breaking point, then let them vote no on this amendment.  But to stop the majority of this body from acting shows yet again that most of my Republican colleagues are much more concerned about protecting their President than protecting our troops. 

“Some in the Administration have argued that this amendment would be too complicated for the Defense Department to enact.  We can develop and deploy the best technology on earth.  Our stealth fighters can enter undetected into enemy territory.  We can launch our terrain-hugging missiles from 3,000 miles away and hit a single window of a building.  We can pay, clothe, feed, train and manage a military force 2.1 million strong – plus their families.  Yet we’re supposed to believe that the Department of Defense cannot follow one simple rule: that each and every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine must receive rest time equal to his deployment?  Senators, please.  Don’t follow the White House talking points.

“This amendment is for Travis Virgadamo and his family, for Anthony Schober and his family, for the 50 other Nevadans and 3,800 Americans who have died in Iraq and their families.

“Just because some in the minority party are choosing obstruction does not mean that all Republicans will follow in lockstep.  We almost overcame Republican obstruction on this amendment in July.  We can finally do the right thing today.

“I know that every single one of my colleagues on both sides of aisle would agree that America’s Armed Forces are and must continue to be the envy of the world.  This amendment puts that commitment into action.  It honors our troops and prepares our Armed Forces for the serious challenges that lie ahead.”