The 2005 Defense Authorization Bill strongly supports all the armed forces and the men and women serving in each service branch.

By Senator John Ensign

Before discussing the future, it always helps to review the past.

In September of 1999, then-presidential candidate George W. Bush did just that. In an address to the cadets of the Citadel in South Carolina, he explained that our military was without peer, but that it was not without problems. During that speech he set three goals: 1.) renew the bond of trust between the American president and the American military; 2.) defend the American people against missiles and terror; and 3.) create the military of the 21st century.

With his election in 2000, President Bush inherited a military that had been freely and haphazardly used around the world, while its budget had fallen by nearly 40 percent since the end of the Cold War. Army recruiting was at a 20-year low. Thousands of members of the armed forces were on food stamps.

President Bush immediately chartered a course for our military that started with better pay, better treatment, and better training. As a newly elected senator, I wholeheartedly supported the efforts of our president to right this ship.

To deal with the new threats of the 21st century, President Bush and Department of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld realized that we needed military capabilities that were flexible, light and agile, so that we could respond to threats quickly and deal with surprise.

That surprise came on September 11, 2001, when members of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda flew passenger airliners into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Pennsylvania countryside killing some 3,000 of our citizens .

While our military response was swift and overwhelming and Afghanistan was quickly liberated, we had come face to face with the realization that we now found ourselves engaged in a new and unprecedented global war on terror. The threats we face today are different from those faced in the Cold War of the last century. Yet, our armed forces were facing these new threats with strategies and management that were developed decades ago.

As an example, the Defense Authorization Bill for fiscal year 2001, passed in October of 2000, authorized a funding level for the Department of Defense of just $309.9 billion, and that was $4.6 billion above President Clinton’s budget request. The budget also authorized the reduction of our active duty military personnel end strength by 3,190 to 1,382,242.

I have long understood the concept that you can’t command great forces without supporting them.

That’s why I am so pleased to report that the Defense Authorization Bill for fiscal year 2005 recommended Department of Defense funding of $420.6 billion, an increase of more than 35 percent over the defense budget inherited by President Bush upon assuming office in 2001

This new budget emphasizes the priorities of combating terrorism, homeland defense, new capabilities to continue the transformation of the armed forces and quality-of-life improvements for members of the armed forces.

It does more than just shovel money at a problem. It authorizes increases in active-duty end strength of 20,000 for the Army and 3,000 for the Marine Corps, provides $672 million for vehicle armor, permanently increases the special pay for duty subject to hostile fire to $225 a month, and increases the monthly family separation pay to $250

It supports our Reserve forces with new TRICARE coverage for those members who have served on extended active duty, provides a new program of educational assistance to members of the Selected Reserve and authorizes increases in special pay for members of the National Guard and Reserve for enlistment and re-enlistment.

It supports military families by allowing the military services to partner with the private sector to provide the highest-quality housing for military members and their families in the shortest amount of time.

It also takes care of our veterans and their families with increases in the Survivor Benefit Plan annuity and elimination of the “widows’ tax” and authorizes immediate concurrent receipt, without phase in, of military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation for retirees who are rated at 100-percent disabled.

And America should be heartened to know that today none of her men and women in uniform are receiving food stamps.

The Defense Authorization Bill for fiscal year 2005 is a realization of President Bush’s vision of better pay, better treatment and better training for our armed forces.

Today, almost 200,000 U.S. military service personnel are deployed around the world in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and other military operations in the on-going global war on terrorism. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines remain deployed in Japan, Korea, Europe, at sea, in Southeast Asia assisting tsunami survivors and elsewhere, protecting American interests and deterring aggression.

I am committed to the brave young men and women of the U.S. armed forces and their families. They deserve our absolute, unwavering support. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and as Chairman of its Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, I will continue to work to ensure that our men and women have the support and tools they need to remain the number one military in the world.

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