Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Fort Report: Our Military

Nov 17, 2017
Fort Report

On one occasion, I was reviewing one of our major strategic assets, and frankly, I was surprised by the age of the equipment.  Then something caught my eye.  Among the various sophisticated components, I saw a roll of duct tape.  With a bit of a smile, I said to the crewman, "Really?  The handyman's secret weapon, even here?" 

Our military is something we understand.  It’s something we can count on.  And it’s something that's importantly and significantly emphasized.  Our military also needs the right resources for one reason: to keep us safe.  

Here's the problem.  According to our military leadership, our armed forces are “outranged, outgunned, outdated.”  Only three of our 58 brigade combat teams are ready to “fight tonight.”  More than half of all Naval aircraft is grounded awaiting needed parts or maintenance.  The average U.S. Air Force aircraft is 27 years old.  This all means, per General Daniel Allyn, Army Vice Chief of Staff, that “we will be too late to need,” risking “excessive casualties to civilians and to our forces who are already forward stationed.”

Fortunately, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate just passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to rebuild our worn-out military by increasing naval strength, better equipping ground forces, and improving aviation readiness.  The bill also dramatically improves military infrastructure, from barracks to hospitals to hangars to runways.  Given North Korea and other threats, missile defense is prioritized.  Our troops will get a raise.  And the Pentagon, for the first time, will be audited to ensure appropriate use of dollars.

Military preparedness, in partnership with nimble diplomacy, are the measurables by which we traditionally judge our capacities.  However, preparing our military and diplomatic corps to respond to 21st century threats is only half the equation. For our policies to be successful in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, the body of the republic has to be fortified by exercising our internal strengths as well.  The successful projection of our ideals matters. Values matter.  Character matters.  And economic opportunity matters.

A healthy economy, where there's real opportunity to do things, where taxes are fair, regulations are reasonable, and where we are not competing against unfair, exploitative globalized interests, engenders an optimistic outlook for ourselves, our families, and our country.  When we are connected in community, when we embrace and model the perennial principles that hold our country together, we enable a full, confident, and authentic projection through business, culture, and science.  When our humanitarian impulse is thoughtfully applied, as it has so often of late in the many disasters and tragedies that have hit, we find our north star and guiding force.  This is the narrative of a fortified America.

Another military anecdote. A commanding general and I went down the line speaking with each member of well-trained crew in a highly sensitive area of our defense capabilities. As we got to one young crew member, the general asked, “Where are you from?”   She hesitated, and then said, "Where I am from originally, sir?"   "Yes, originally, where are you from?" the general asked.  She paused and hesitatingly said, "Russia.”   

I think you can imagine our surprise.  The general then replied, "Well, I wasn't expecting to hear that."  She then said, "I was born in Russia, but I was adopted by American parents when I was young.  I'm so grateful to this country for giving me a chance that I wanted to give something back. So, I joined the United States military.”   

The general and I were amazed.  This scene could not have been scripted.  But it is the script of America's story and strength.