NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2008 -- (Senate - September 19, 2007)
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I wish to thank my colleague from Michigan, whom we are so proud of, for all his efforts in supporting our troops and leading our efforts as it relates to the defense of our country and for once again leading this very important bill on the Defense reauthorization.
It is time to put aside for a brief moment the overall debate of the war and focus on the troops. Regardless of whether you supported going into Iraq or, as I did, voted no on going into that war, we come together and we hear frequently from colleagues on both sides of the aisle that, of course, we support our troops. We want what is best for the brave men and women who are fighting in harm's way, who didn't take that vote and didn't decide the policy but who are, in fact, stepping up to defend that policy and defend our country.
The question is, What is best for the troops on the ground right now, in the middle of these conflicts that have gone on now for over 4 1/2 years? We are here today to talk about what is best for our military, our troops, and for their families.
We are not here to debate the merits of the mission. I certainly am willing to do that and do that with other amendments. But this particular amendment, the amendment of Senator Webb, is an effort to determine what makes sense when it comes to deploying our armed services, what is best for those who have been willing to put their lives on the line for our country, who follow the leadership of the Department of Defense and operate under the policies that have been set by this Congress and this President.
What is very clear is that the current system is broken for our troops. We are forcing our troops into longer and longer combat deployments and giving them shorter and shorter rest periods. We are demanding multiple combat deployments over very short periods, with many units on their second, their third, or even their fourth redeployment in the war in Iraq. We are denying the men and women who put their lives on the line for America the time they need off from the front lines to recuperate, to retrain, to prepare themselves physically and mentally to return to combat and, just as important, to spend time with their families, to be able to reconnect with the loved ones they have left behind when they have gone into this war.
We are placing an unfair and unreasonable burden on those military families, families who are willing to sacrifice, who have sacrificed; families who count on us to be there for them, representing their interests and the interests of their loved ones who are on the front lines. They are doing all of it in the name of a policy that the military itself has indicated is not only unreasonable but unsafe. The Department of Defense itself has said that the conditions under which they are operating have been unreasonable and unsafe.
Historically, the Department of Defense, as has been said, has mandated a combat-to-rest ratio of 1 to 2--1 month on, 2 months off as an example; 1 year in combat, 2 years at home--to rest, retrain, and prepare for the next deployment. In fact, the historic 1-to-2 ratio is currently the stated policy of the DOD. We are hearing from colleagues on the other side of the aisle as if this is some outrageous idea, that we put some parameters around the deployment and redeployment of our troops. Yet it is the stated policy of the Department of Defense: 1 month or 1 year on, 2 months or 2 years here at home.
The Webb amendment merely sets a 1-to-1 ratio, a floor that only gets us halfway to the standard the Department of Defense itself has called for. The policies pursued by this administration have stretched our men and women in uniform to the breaking point. Our Armed Forces are getting the job done under the most extreme and trying conditions imaginable. Most of us have had an opportunity, firsthand, to see them in action, to see what they are doing and the conditions under which they are operating. They are getting the job done. No one is surprised because we have the best and the brightest, but they are under extreme and trying conditions. They face an enemy who often cannot be identified. They face an environment that is harsh and hot and unbearable. They do their jobs with pride, with honor, with dignity, and most certainly with excellence.
The current deployment schedule places an unfair burden not only on our soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines but on the families they leave behind. Military families have, in their own way, been called to serve this country, been called to sacrifice. They demand our respect and support for the sacrifices they are making. What we are currently asking of them is simply unreasonable. When our troops go into combat, the people they leave behind shoulder the burden of keeping the family together while mom or dad--mother, father, sister, brother--is fighting in service to their country. They are left to face not only the practical problems that come with having a family member gone for long stretches of time but also the constant uncertainty and stress of simply not knowing what is happening to their loved one. Are they safe? Will they come home safely? Our troops and their families have done everything we have asked of them. They have been there for America. And now the answer to the question must be that we will be there for them.
The young Americans who volunteer to put on the uniform and fight for our country are truly our best. They are the best-trained, the best-equipped, the bravest fighting forces in the world, and they are one of the Nation's most valuable assets and greatest resources. Current administration policy is abusing their willingness and desire to serve. This has to stop. By straining and stretching our military, we are undercutting our own national security. We are compromising everything we have done to build up a force that can defend America and properly respond to the dangers we face in today's uncertain world.
Senator Webb has crafted an amendment that addresses the concerns of our military leaders. It includes reasonable waivers in the face of unexpected threats to America. It includes a transition window that will allow a shift in the deployment schedule without a disruption of our fighting forces. We have worked with the military to develop a policy that makes sense. I commend Senator Webb for his foresight and his willingness to work with the Secretary of Defense and others to make the changes, to make this even more workable. We compromised where it makes sense to strengthen the legislation, but we will not compromise on the safety of our troops or on the support for their families.
This amendment is not about where we stand on the war. It is not about partisan politics. It is about doing the right thing for our troops and for their families. I urge my colleagues to stand up and vote for the Webb amendment. Stand with the people we have sent to war and their families waiting at home, and stand with all Americans who want us to have the right kind of policy to support our troops and to keep us safe for the future.
Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.