By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 15, 2009 - As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to assume the role of commander in chief, one of the stated items on his list of priorities is to shape the U.S. military for the 21st century. Obama, who's slated to be inaugurated Jan. 20, has not served in military uniform, but his climb to the U.S. presidency culminates a public service career that began in 1997 as a member of the Illinois State Senate, where he served three terms, followed by a successful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2004.
As a junior U.S. senator, Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School and the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. He fought to help veterans get the disability pay they were promised while working to prepare the Veterans Affairs Department for the thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the president-elect's Web site, www.change.gov.
Obama's early exposure to military culture came from the maternal grandparents who helped to raise him during his adolescent years in Honolulu. His grandfather, Stanley Armour Dunham, enlisted in the Army during World War II and served under Gen. George S. Patton while his wife, Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham, worked on a bomber assembly line.
The president-elect has said that America's greatest military asset is the men and women who wear the uniform of the U.S. armed forces.
"When we do send our men and women into harm's way, we must also clearly define the mission, prescribe concrete political and military objectives, seek out the advice of our military commanders, evaluate the intelligence, plan accordingly, and ensure that our troops have the resources, support, and equipment they need to protect themselves and fulfill their mission," he told the Chicago Foreign Affairs Council in April 2007.
One of the stated goals of Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden is to "invest in a 21st century military." To this end, the incoming administration has laid out the following focal points on its Web site:
-- Rebuild the Military for 21st Century Tasks: Obama and Biden plan to build up special operations forces, civil affairs, information operations and other units and capabilities that remain in chronic short supply; to invest in foreign language training, cultural awareness, and human intelligence and other needed counterinsurgency and stabilization skill sets; and to create a more robust capacity to train, equip, and advise foreign security forces so allies are better prepared to confront mutual threats.
-- Expand to Meet Military Needs on the Ground: Obama and Biden support plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000 Marines to help units retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease the strain on military families.
-- Leadership from the Top: Obama and Biden plan to inspire a new generation of Americans to serve their country, whether it be in local communities in such roles as teachers or first responders, or serving in the military to keep the nation free and safe.
-- Lighten the Burdens on Troops and Their Families: The administration plans to create a Military Families Advisory Board to provide a conduit for military families' concerns to be brought to the attention of senior policymakers and the public. They've promised end the "stop-loss" policy that allows servicemembers to be retained beyond the term of their enlistment and to establish predictability in deployments so that active duty and reserve servicemembers know what they can and must expect.