NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2008
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, let me begin by expressing my utmost support for Senator Warner. I am absolutely convinced of his commitment to our troops. I do not think there are many people in this Senate Chamber who understand our military better or care more deeply about our military. So I have the highest regard for him.
I have to say I respectfully disagree on this issue and must rise in strong support of the amendment offered by Senator Webb to require minimum periods between deployments for members of our armed services who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. This amendment protects our brave men and women in uniform and ensures that our Armed Forces retain their ability to meet any challenge around the world. That is something that ultimately all of us have to be concerned about. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this amendment.
I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and have called repeatedly for a responsible end to the foreign policy disaster that this administration has created. Over 3,700 American service men and women have died in this war. Over 27,000 have been seriously wounded. Each month, this misguided war costs us a staggering $10 billion. When all is said and done, it will have cost us at least $1 trillion.
There are different views of the war in this Chamber, but there is no disagreement about the tremendous sacrifice of the men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have performed valiantly under exceedingly difficult circumstances. They have done everything we have asked of them. But they have also been stretched to the limit. The truth is, we are not keeping our sacred trust with our men and women in uniform. We are asking too much of them, and we are asking too much of their families. We owe it to our troops and their families to adopt a fair policy that ensures predictable rotations, adequate time to be with their families before redeployment, and adequate time for realistic training for the difficult assignments we are giving them.
Our service men and women will always answer the call of duty, but the reality is extended deployments and insufficient rest periods are taking their toll. The effects of the strain are clear: Increasing attrition rates, falling retention rates among West Point graduates, increasing rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and unprecedented strain on military families.
This amendment is a responsible way to keep our sacred trust while restoring our military to an appropriate state of readiness. It ensures that members of our Armed Forces who are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan have at least the same amount of time at home, before they are redeployed. It would also ensure that members of a Reserve component, including the National Guard, cannot be redeployed to Iraq or Afghanistan within 3 years of their previous deployment.
After 4 1/2 years of fighting in Iraq and almost 6 years of fighting in Afghanistan, we owe it to our troops and their families to provide them with a more predictable schedule with sufficient time home between deployments. As the Military Officers Association of America, which represents 368,000 members, has stated:
If we are not better stewards of our troops and their families in the future than we have been in the recent past, the Military Officers Association of America believes strongly that we will be putting the all-volunteer force at unacceptable risk.
There are scores of anecdotes that bear out the strain on our families. One woman from Illinois recently wrote my office telling me how her husband was facing his fourth deployment in 4 1/2 years. She described how her husband had spent so much time in Iraq that, in her words: ``He feels like he is stationed in Iraq and only deploys home.'' That is not an acceptable way to treat our troops. That is not an acceptable way to treat their families.
This amendment is not only important for military families, it is also important for our national security. Our military simply cannot sustain its current deployments without crippling our ability to respond to contingencies around the world.
This is all the more important since the administration has squandered our resources on the war in Iraq and neglected to address serious threats to our safety. According to the National Intelligence Estimate in July, al-Qaida has ``protected or regenerated key elements of its homeland attack capability,'' including a safe haven in Pakistan's tribal areas, operational lieutenants, and its top leadership.
Ensuring the readiness and capabilities of our troops will be crucial to confronting the threat of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and other parts of the world and deterring other threats to America's national security.
Over the coming months, I will continue to push for a new course in Iraq that immediately begins a safe and orderly withdrawal of our combat troops, that changes our military mission to focus on training and counterterrorism, that puts real pressure on the Iraqis to resolve their grievances, and that focuses our military efforts on the real threats facing our country.
I believe this amendment is an important part of that new course. I strongly urge my colleagues to support this proposal.
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