The House has passed the "National Defense Authorization Act of 2012" (NDAA), which includes a provision strenuously pushed for by U.S. Congressmen Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02) and Mike Rogers (MI-08) that requires the Department of Defense (DoD) to begin the process of identifying and returning Commander Richard Somers and his fellow twelve (12) Navy commandos buried in mass graves in Libya to the United States. Killed in Tripoli, Libya in 1804, Commander Somers is the namesake of Somers Point, New Jersey.
"After years and years of unexplained delays and blatant stonewalling, the U.S. Navy will now have to begin the process of bringing one of our nation's greatest heroes home to Somers Point," praised LoBiondo, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "The historic life of U.S. Commander Richard Somers has positively affected and inspired not only residents of Somers Point and South Jersey, but individuals across the country. The definition of an American hero is Richard Somers and his fellow sailors, who bravely fought and died for their country. I'm pleased that Congress agrees they should be returned home to be buried with dignity by their families and communities with the gratitude of a grateful nation."
In September of 1804, the thirteen American sailors were killed in the explosion of the USS Intrepid in Tripoli Harbor. The Navy's first commandos -- precursors to today's Navy Seals -- were on a mission to destroy Tripoli's naval fleet during the First Barbary War. When their bodies washed ashore on the beach in Tripoli, they were fed to a pack of dogs as American prisoners of war looked on and then dumped into two mass graves.
LoBiondo has long sought to bring Commander Somers home to Somers Point, inquiring over the years with the State Department and DoD on available avenues to retrieve the body from Tripoli. Rogers joined LoBiondo's effort after visiting the grave sites in 2004 and joined on legislation that was approved by the full House in May. This spring LoBiondo spoke on the House floor about the need to bring Commander Somers home. His speech is available on his YouTube page: www.youtube.com/user/USRepFrankLoBiondo. LoBiondo was a member of the House-Senate Conference which negotiated and agreed to the final legislation.
Specifically, the NDAA instructs the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Defense Department to report back to Congress, in no more than 270 days, about the feasibility of recovering the missing commandos. That determination must be based on costs of the operation, facts surrounding the incident, precedent for retrieval and historical information. DoD must also determine their ability to positively identify Commander Somers and his fellow patriots within two (2) years. Additionally, diplomatic issues needing to be addressed between the United States and Libya prior to exhuming the bodies must be included in the report.
"I strongly believe that the United States has an obligation to leave no member of the Armed Services behind, especially after sacrificing so much for their country," said Rogers, a former officer in the U.S. Army, member of the conference committee that produced the final bill and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "Bringing the remains of those brave commandos home and giving them a proper military funeral will finally bring a sense of closure to a tragic story that has lasted far too long."
In addition to the USS Intrepid provisions, the NDAA includes the following provisions important to U.S. national security, military operations and service-members:
Authorizes $554 billion for the Department of Defense, a reduction of $19 billion from the previous year's authorization levels;
Includes a 1.6 percent increase in military pay;
Authorizes mental health assessments for the reserve components during unit training;
Freezes nearly $700 million in aid to Pakistan;
Excludes any new authorities to detain U.S. citizens and explicitly exempts U.S. citizens from provisions related to military custody of terrorists;
Requires the President to sanction entities, including state central banks, engaging in financial transactions with the Central Bank of Iran; and,
Creates an independent panel to assess the location and number of U.S. forces overseas required in order to meet the National Military Strategy of 2010 and make recommendations of future U.S. presence overseas.
Additionally, the legislation elevates the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff while creating a Vice Chief of Staff position in the leadership structure of the Bureau. This places the National Guard Bureau in line with the other Services. With strategically-important National Guard units located in South Jersey, LoBiondo has long advocated for this provision and cosponsored legislation to ensure the National Guard's interests represented at the highest level.
"In South Jersey, we are fortunate to have the brave men and women of the 177th Fighter Wing in Egg Harbor Township and the 253rd Transportation Company in Cape May Court House who has participated in recent years in combat operations overseas. As units throughout New Jersey and the nation equally serve their country alongside their counterparts in the other Services, their seat at the leadership table of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was denied. This legislation finally corrects that injustice," concluded LoBiondo.
Finally, the legislation allows for the adoption of military working dogs by families of killed in action or seriously-wounded service-members who served as the dog's handler overseas. After several news reports, the U.S. Congress agreed to allow adoption of these military canines by the soldiers or families of soldiers who worked day in and day out with the dog. LoBiondo strongly supported this policy change.