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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009 -- (Senate - September 16, 2008)

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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I ask the Chair to notify me when I have reached the 1-minute mark.

Mr. President, I first want to say, as I rise to support the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 and honor all of our service members and their families who continue to serve and sacrifice for the sake of the country, that I am very appreciative of the leadership of both Chairman Levin and Senator Warner and, obviously, Senator McCain who has been absent some and Senator Warner has so ably filled in.

Chairman Warner will always be chairman to me. He has been my dear friend through many years. What a great service to our country this great American has provided in the true Virginia gentleman tradition. He has always been such an asset to this body and such an asset to our men and women in uniform. I thank Senator Warner for his great service, I thank him for his friendship, and I thank him for what he does every day for our men and women in uniform.

Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I humbly acknowledge the gracious remarks, and I express my appreciation.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, last week marked the seventh anniversary of the day our country was attacked by terrorists, resulting in the deaths of approximately 3,000 innocent people. Since that day and for the past 7 years, our Nation has devoted itself to winning the global war on terrorism.

It is astonishing how the commitment of our soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines has inspired the Afghan and Iraqi people to build their own political framework, improve their security and infrastructure, and promote human rights, freedom, and democracy in their respective countries. I am proud to say that our commitment to and investment in the global war on terrorism is now bearing fruits that are leading to a safer and more democratic world.

All of our accomplishments in this area start with our servicemembers and their families who every day face the challenges, sacrifices, and dangers inherent in the profession of arms. Congress is entrusted with providing the necessary resources, policies, and programs for our servicemembers and military departments in order to ensure their success.

This year's National Defense Authorization Act serves as the vehicle to do just that and provides the resources and policies to carry out the missions we ask of our military.

Specifically, the bill provides the following:

An increase of 7,000 soldiers, 5,000 marines, and 3,371 full-time personnel for the Army National Guard and Army Reserve over the 2008 force structure levels; a 3.9-percent pay raise for all military personnel; a total of $125 billion for military personnel to improve allowances, bonuses, permanent change of station moves, and death benefits; reauthorization of over 25 types of bonuses and special pay to promote enlistment and continued military service; more rigorous oversight procedures for military housing privatization projects; and a report to Congress on the implementation of the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program.

I also have several amendments to the bill, all of which I understand will be included in a manager's package. I wish to discuss these amendments very briefly.

First, last year, I worked with many of my colleagues to include a provision in the National Defense Authorization bill allowing for members of the Guard and Reserve who deploy in support of a contingency operation to receive their retired pay early based on how much time they deploy. This year, Senator Kerry and I, along with 15 other Senators, have offered an amendment that would make this provision retroactive to include any duty performed after September 11, 2001.

This amendment recognizes a significant sacrifice that members of the Guard and Reserve and their families have made since 9/11 in answering the call of duty. It is only right that their duty and support of the global war on terrorism since September 11 be recognized and included when considering when they should receive retired pay. It is my hope we can keep this provision in conference and included in the final version of the bill.

Also for the Guard and Reserve, I have offered an amendment, cosponsored by my colleague Mark Pryor from Arkansas, which would provide 180 days of transitional health care for members leaving active duty who agree to affiliate with the Guard and Reserve. An identical provision was sponsored and included in the House bill by my good friend Congressman Sanford Bishop from Georgia. This amendment provides a powerful incentive for members leaving active duty to join the Guard and Reserve and could result in several thousand more people entering the Guard and Reserve each and every year.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a letter of support for this amendment from the Reserve Officers Association.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

RESERVE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION,
Washington, DC, September 15, 2008.
Hon. SAXBY CHAMBLISS,
Chairman of the Senate Reserve Caucus, Russell Office Building, Washington, DC.

DEAR SENATOR CHAMBLISS: The Reserve Officers Association, representing 65,000 Reserve Component members, supports Amendment 5356 of the Senate Defense Authorization bill, S. 3001, which grants transitional health care to active duty personnel as they become a member of the armed forces reserve component.

It is important to reduce the barriers that prevent people from joining the National Guard or Reserve. Providing transitional TRICARE health coverage permits serving members and their families to continue with the same coverage they received while on active duty, and allow them time to qualify for TRICARE Reserve Select. Your amendment provides a recruiting incentive that helps the individual, his or her family and the armed forces.

Thank you for your efforts on this key issue, and other support to the military that you have shown in the past. Please feel free to have your staff call ROA's legislative director, Marshall Hanson with any question or issue you would like to discuss.

Sincerely,
DENNIS M. MCCARTHY,

Lieutenant General USMC (Retired),
Executive Director.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, another amendment I have offered to the bill, along with my colleague from Georgia, Senator Isakson, provides a sense of the Senate on the care of wounded warriors. Last year's Defense Authorization bill contained the Wounded Warrior Act which went a long way to helping DOD and Department of Veterans Affairs establish a network of recovery care coordinators who would work to manage and coordinate care for recovering servicemembers. This is a powerful program and stands to make a huge impact in the lives of our wounded warriors. My amendment calls on DOD and the VA to expedite the recruiting, training, and hiring of these personnel, and also to partner with civilian institutions, such as the Medical College of Georgia School of Nursing, to help train these personnel and ensure they have access to the most up-to-date research and skills in order to best serve our wounded warriors.

Two other amendments I will mention briefly are first a sense of the Senate that the Air Force should conduct a robust demonstration of the SYERS system on the Joint STARS aircraft. SYERS would provide an expanded combat identification capability for Joint STARS and the Air Force should fully explore its utility and the possibility of incorporating SYERS on the entire Joint STARS fleet.

Second, I have offered an amendment that would require DOD to report to Congress on the requirement for Non-dual status National Guard technicians. These personnel are often used to backfill deploying Guard personnel, and due to the large number of deployments, we need to look at expanding the number of Non-dual status technicians as a means of ensuring the Guard's home State missions are not neglected.

The National Defense Authorization Act is designed to strengthen our military, provide the required resources to the Department of Defense to carry out the responsibilities our Nation asks of them, and to improve our servicemembers' and their families' quality of life. The proposed legislation and the funding priorities will ensure that our Nation maintains an adept and quality force to defend our country and allow us to continue to be an ambassador for a prosperous and peaceful world. I commend the chairman, the ranking member, and committee staff for their hard work on the bill and their diligence in bringing it to the floor.

Unfortunately, the bill does have several problematic provisions, including an unnecessary limitation on the role of private security contractors and an unnecessary prohibition on trained and qualified personnel conducting lawful interrogations. I hope we can address and resolve these issues in conference in a way that best serves our military personnel and allows them to effectively carry out their responsibilities.

I also hope the Senate can complete action on this very important piece of legislation and proceed to a House-Senate conference and passage of a conference report prior to the end of this month.

I yield the floor.

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