Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Jim Banks (R-IN), Chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, delivered the following opening remarks at a hearing on the enlisted force.
Rep. Banks’ remarks as prepared for delivery:
The hearing will now come to order. I want to welcome everyone to this hearing of the Military Personnel subcommittee. Today’s hearing is focused on the health and welfare of the enlisted force and their families… from the perspective of the Service senior enlisted leaders.
I want to thank our witnesses for being with us today, for their service to the nation and for their continued daily support and advocacy of our enlisted service members and their families. I personally owe a debt of gratitude to all of the enlisted service members I served with and that have helped me along the way during my Navy career.
I also want to thank the thousands of enlisted service-members: Active duty, Reservists and Guard Members who are serving this nation around the world as we speak. We ask all of you to put your trust and confidence in us to provide for you and your families… And as always you have answered the call… and put service before self… but what I would like to know… is whether we are doing everything we can to support our All Volunteer Force.
An All-Volunteer Force that has placed the covenant of trust in our military leaders… Trust is a tricky thing… because we oftentimes can’t see it… yet we know it exists… Trust is embodied in the spirit of the service-member that is willing to sacrifice for their unit and their country because they have an abiding belief that their leaders will take care of them.
But when I see the stories in the press about poor barracks and housing conditions, access to healthcare challenges, food insecurity, high suicide numbers, and the list goes on. I wonder if there has been an erosion of trust within the military and whether that can be restored… Actually, it must be restored to ensure we have the men and women we need to serve in the best military in the world.
And that is the focus of today’s hearing, an unvarnished assessment from the top enlisted leaders of each Service on whether the Department of Defense, and each individual Service, has lived up to this unbreakable contract with the All-Volunteer Force. This is a contract of trust that is critical to recruiting and retention... I submit they have fallen short in many areas, several of which we will explore today.
Our witnesses have the pulse of our enlisted service members and know what Service policies affect their decisions to join, to stay or to go. What I’d like to understand today is whether the Services and the Department of Defense have not lived up to their responsibilities… is it pay…… healthcare … childcare …assignments…social policies…food access…housing…other benefits? The answer is likely some combination of all these things.
Secretary Austin reiterated again in a March memo to the Force that “…people are the bedrock of a strong national defense” and that, “we made significant investments to improve the quality of life for our Service members and their families…”
And yet despite this rhetoric we find out through DoD’s own survey process that, “…45% of spouses of service members in paygrades E-1 to E-4 are food insecure and that some “25% of military members overall are food insecure.”
This is clearly and completely unacceptable and a further erosion of trust with our service members. Remember this is an all-volunteer force… this is certainly a recruiting issue…how do you get people to enlist if this is what they will face?
So… for this hearing I want to hear from our witnesses… on their view of where the stressors are on our enlisted service members and their families… and where the Department and the Services need to change policy or to address with funding. I think with aggressive oversight from this committee we can prompt quick action to keep the faith with those that we ask so much of.