Thursday, March 05, 2015

Volunteer work opens new doors for PFC

by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
JBER Public Affairs

3/5/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- "I didn't know I had been selected until I received a platoon-wide text message which read:
Congratulations Private First Class Mehring, you've been selected to be the BOSS president; please be in your office at 0900."

"I sat down and, at first, was very lost," said Spc. Natalie Mehring, of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, U.S. Army Alaska, and president of Better Opportunities for Single Service members. "It's a whole different dynamic to being a representative."

BOSS is an organization designed to enhance the quality of life for single Soldiers and Airmen. BOSS provides activities for the junior-enlisted force - like all-terrain vehicle trips, hiking trips and local events at discounted prices.

"We boost service members' morale by hosting events that take them out of their barracks," Mehring said. "So they get to truly see the beauty of Alaska."
As a volunteer-oriented program, BOSS also provides an opportunity for junior-enlisted to make a difference in their community and stand out as leaders while they do it.

One such program is Joint Base Against Drunk Driving, which provides free rides to ensure service members can make it home safe after a night out on the town. JBADD averages 10 to 20 safely transported service members every weekend.

Mehring earned the position of BOSS president, a slot normally reserved for noncommissioned officers, as a private first class - a direct result of her extensive volunteer work as a BOSS representative for her unit.

"As representatives, we would take notes of upcoming events; ideas for upcoming events; and issues people would bring up regarding quality of life," Mehring said. "We would brief for five minutes at the safety brief every Friday and offer volunteer opportunities for the unit."

As a representative, Mehring organized a domestic-violence seminar which provided practical information to service members on how to protect themselves and others.

"As a representative, you push out the information, and the president tells you to to make sure everyone knows about the events," Mehring said. "As the president, I have a bigger role in what happens in the program.

"It made me nervous," she said.

By having a position fundamentally driven by leadership, Mehring is now in a position to lead in ways a junior-enlisted Soldier normally might not.

However, with opportunities come expectations.

"Due to the whole gamut of things that need to be done, you normally put that [expectation] on an NCO because they're used to doing it in their natural work environment," said Bill Miracle, BOSS advisor and program manager for the Warrior Zone. "It's rare that you get a PFC who has it together enough to handle it. She's an incredible speaker, she always knows what she's talking about and she's continually growing" Miracle said.

The role of president is a temporary duty Mehring will support until her permanent change of station.

However, within BOSS there are many opportunities service members can hop right into and begin their own path to success. One such opportunity is the role of vice president, which is considered an additional duty.

"When I first got up here, I stayed in my barracks. I didn't want to go out and I didn't know anybody. I was kind of a lost private," said Spc. Bridget Augustine, the BOSS vice president and a linguist with Delta Company, 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion (Airborne), 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.

"After becoming more involved, I became aware of the benefits it creates. I got out there and realized [BOSS] is more than just supporting single service members," She said. "It creates an awareness of all the opportunities available for us."

"What matters to me is the happiness of the service members," Mehring said. "You get here, you don't know anybody, you're alone.

"I dont ever want anybody to feel that way."

By volunteering and maintaining a positive attitude, Mehring opened the door to a unique career opportunity she can use to fuel her momentum forward.

Opportunities like this may not always go smoothly; but Mehring said it's worth the effort.

"You have to fall a couple times before you can be strong enough to stand on your own two feet," Mehring said. "So I have failed, I learned from it and I feel like where I am now is phenomenal."

For more information on BOSS and how to get involved, visit their Facebook page or call 384-9023.

Patriot puppies: 731st AMS 'Port Dawgs' open doors to new passengers

by Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel
7th Air Force Public Affairs

3/4/2015 - OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- "I wasn't going to be able to keep my puppies. We were ready to give them up, and we were devastated," said Elena as she kissed her mixed-breed, exhausted pound puppy on the forehead after a 10-plus hour trans-Pacific flight.

After five years in the works, the 731st Air Mobility Squadron passenger terminal welcomed its first four-legged passengers via a new program, allowing service members to fly their pets on the "Patriot Express" to the Korean Peninsula.

"We were days away from giving up our dogs," said Elena's husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Stephen Adams, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew chief newly assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Humphreys, Republic of Korea. "Last minute, we got the call about this new program, and we were extremely relieved we would be able to keep them: life-changing news for us."

It's a first for this terminal, which was built in 2010 and holds the title, "The gateway to the Korean Peninsula."

The Osan passenger terminal shipped its first outbound pet in September 2014.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jonathan Wood explained how the new program is a cost savings for the Air Force and any other service using the Patriot Express when members change duty stations.

"The PE is under Air Mobility Command contract to move PCSing members between Osan, Misawa, Yokota and Seattle-Tacoma," he said. "Previously, when pets weren't on the PE program, Air Force and Army travel offices had to purchase commercial airline tickets for PCSing members traveling with pets, ultimately costing more money."

As an added benefit, the PE offers exponential cost savings for members as well. They simply pay an excess baggage fee for their pet based on the combined weight of the animal and the kennel. For the Adams family, it was an 80 percent cost savings over commercial travel.

"We had tried to raise money to cover the expense, but it wasn't happening fast enough," Sgt. Adams explained. "This was our saving grace."

In addition to the cost savings, the smaller, faster and more streamlined process of the PE is healthier for pets, according to U.S. Army Capt. Elad Stotland, 106th Medical Detachment veterinary treatment facility officer in charge.

The reduced time in processing and traveling through airports reduces stress from the animals and offers a quicker road to "relief" from kennels, the captain explained.

"After hours of air travel in a tight space, any amount of time is better for our dogs when it comes getting them out of their kennels and to the grass for some relief and fresh air," Adams said. "For us, PCSing is stressful enough with all the paperwork, new people and change in scenery. After thinking we were going to have to do it without our dogs, this was a big service to us and alleviation to the stress."

Deadhorse drop tests paratroopers' arctic skills

by Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Smith
4-25th IBCT Public Affairs

3/5/2015 - DEADHORSE, Alaska -- Paratroopers with U.S. Army Alaska's 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division performed the largest U.S. airborne mission north of the Arctic Circle in more than a decade Feb. 24 during Spartan Pegasus 15.

The exercise demonstrated their unique ability to rapidly mass power on an objective in an extremely cold, austere environment.

The airborne operation, spearheaded by the Spartan Brigade's 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion, inserted nearly 150 paratroopers, along with arctic-mobility equipment including a Small-Unit Support Vehicle and arctic sustainment gear.

The large-scale exercise involved intricate planning and coordination among several military components, including U.S. Army Alaska, the Air Force and the Alaska Air  National Guard.

The exercise validated Soldier mobility across frozen terrain - a key fundamental of USARAK's mission as the Army's northernmost command.

The air support package included two Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and two Alaska Air National Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft to fly the task force more than 800 miles north of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Pegasus was a joint operation. Maj. Kirby Chacon, with the Alaska Air National Guard at JBER, said working closely with the Army for Spartan Pegasus helped further relations, and that just being able to practice for real-world applications is important for both branches.

Army Capt. John Kline, commander of B Company, 6th BEB, said Spartan Pegasus demonstrated USARAK's unique airborne and arctic skill sets as well as the unit's ability to work closely with joint military partners.

"We do a lot of joint partnership missions," Kline said. "We work with our Air Force brethren out of JBER and the Alaska  National Guard as well as many other partners from across Alaska."

"This exercise showcases the rapidly-deployable capabilities of the paratroopers," Kline continued. "The arctic paratrooper can really survive in extreme conditions and can [deploy] in very short response time."

USARAK is the Army's proponent for extreme cold-weather training.

As home to the Northern Warfare Training Center, USARAK validates the training concepts taught there through operations across the state - including within the Arctic Circle and even at the top of Mount McKinley.

Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Wallace, who trained for the extreme cold at the NWTC  in Black Rapids, said the training was beneficial because it taught him key arctic skills that he uses while training across Alaska.

"The Northern Warfare Training Center can get a little cold," joked Wallace. "But it was a good experience. Our equipment allows us to operate down to about negative 40 [Fahrenheit], and coming up here [to Alaska] gave me the unique opportunity to get on skis for the first time in my life. Learning how to ski and how to snowshoe allows us to be more mobile while on the ground."

Adding to the exercise's success were the command-and-control communications provided by the 307th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 516th Signal Brigade.

The mission marked the farthest north a command post node has been established by the unit - a key factor in the success of the overall mission.

The various military components were able to maintain constant contact with each other allowing for efficient order issue and receipt during the entire exercise.

Though the mission was at the top of Alaska, it was tracked by the Department of the Army as an emergency deployment readiness exercise.

With all jumpers and gear safely on the tundra, the airborne team once again demonstrated USARAK's ability to work closely with joint military partners to respond to emergencies and contingencies in the harsh arctic environment of Alaska and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.

716th EOD departs for nine-month Kuwait deployment

by Sgt. Brian Ragin
4/25 IBCT Public Affairs

3/5/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Paratroopers assigned to the 716th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment, 725th Brigade Support Battalion (Airborne), 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, packed themselves and their equipment aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft Sunday and deployed to Kuwait for a nine-month rotation.

The 716th recently returned  from a training rotation at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.

The training at NTC readied the unit for the deployment, according to Capt. Eric Kufel, who is assigned to the 725th.

"We performed exceptionally well in our rotation to NTC in support of 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division," said Kufel. "[Paratroopers with the 716th] are more than prepared to support [U.S. Strategic Command] as their contingency-response force for EOD support in the region in Kuwait."

Lt. Col. LaHavie Brunson, commander of the 725th "Centurions," said he was confident in his team as they embark on their  mission.

We are one of the best brigades in the Army, without a doubt," Brunson said. "There is only one unit that's going forward to take care of business, and that's our guys. In the last 13 years, we found out that we cannot win a fight without EOD."

While operating in Kuwait, Spartan paratroopers will work daily alongside military service personnel from Kuwait and other partnering nations stationed in the region.

Approximately 40 explosive ordnance disposal specialists with the 716th deployed to Kuwait for the nine-month rotation.

The rest of the unit's paratroopers will continue their important work here in Alaska responding to unexploded ordnance disposal requests from all around the state.

Explosive ordnance disposal Soldiers follow Basic Combat Training with 39 weeks of training at Fort Lee, Virginia. During that time, they learn the fundamentals of electronics and how to identify U.S. and foreign munitions. They also study demolition materials and the procedures and operations for using them, as well as the basics of chemical and biological ordnance and operations.

Armed with the best tactical and technical training, they locate, identify, and dispose of munitions - from improvised explosive devices to nuclear weapons.

Face of Defense: Sailor Learns From Service Aboard Destroyer

By Army Sgt. Richard Hoppe
123rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, March 5, 2015 – Voices echo shallowly across confined, bluish-grey, metal halls and stairwells as shoulders tightly squeeze by, grazing one another in passing.
For some service members, imagining a deployment in these conditions may cause slight anxiety. But for Navy Seaman Morgan Pilgreen, an operations specialist assigned to USS Jason Dunham, it’s the life she’s lived for almost two years.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer recently made a port visit to the U.S. naval station here.

Pilgreen said she joined the Navy to travel and because she wanted to do something honorable, but different. The 20-year-old sailor works in the ship’s Combat Information Center, tracking radar systems and other vessels in the area.

Continuing Her Family’s Service

Service runs in her family. Pilgreen’s father served in the Army, she said, and her sister is preparing to deploy.

The Savannah, Georgia, native was assigned to USS Jason Dunham after graduating from her specialty training, and she will celebrate two years aboard the destroyer in August. In such a small amount of time, Pilgreen said, she has traveled up and down the U.S. East Coast, made port visits in the United Kingdom, and has gained valuable experience.

“I feel like I’m learning a lot,” she said. “I’m learning how to do maintenance on a ship [and] how to firefight.”

Pilgreen said she plans on taking college courses while seeing where her Navy career will take her.

“I’m planning on seeing how far I can get,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of opportunity within my rate, so I’m looking forward to seeing what more I can do.”

Recalling a Favorite Experience

One of her favorite experiences, she said, was conducting naval surface fire support during an exercise in which the crew of USS Jason Dunham worked with Marines and NATO forces off the coast of northern Scotland. She played an essential part of the crew’s success during the exercise, which used the ships MK-45 5-inch, .62-caliber gun, firing rounds at targets on a nearby beach to clear a path for the Marines.

“All that work we had to do, and all the stress … and actually getting to see it happen and making something go ‘boom,’ that was the coolest thing,” Pilgreen said.

Minot Wings to Receive 2014 Omaha Trophy

3/5/2015 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- The 5th Bomb Wing, Minot Air Force Base, N.D., was named the 2014 Omaha Trophy recipient as the command's premier strategic aircraft operations wing, March 3, in recognition of outstanding support to U.S. Strategic Command's global strategic deterrence mission over the last year.

The 5th Bomb Wing joins the 91st Missile Wing, Minot AFB, N.D., 50th Space Wing, Schriever AFB, Colo.; USS Alaska (SSBN 732), and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia; who were announced during the Nuclear Task Force Commander's Conference, Jan. 5, as the 2014 Omaha Trophy winners.

U.S. Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney, USSTRATCOM commander, praised the organizations for demonstrating "the highest standards of performance in support of USSTRATCOM's diverse missions."

"We applaud the members of these professional units, and extend our heartiest congratulations on their selection for this prestigious award," he said. "I am proud of your contributions to our nation's defense."

Ken Stinson, Strategic Command Consultation (SCC) Committee chairman, said he is "proud to recognize the 2014 Omaha Trophy winners on behalf of the great city of Omaha and the surrounding communities."

"Congratulations and thank you for keeping our nation safe," he added.

The Omaha Trophy celebrates USSTRATCOM's premier intercontinental ballistic missile wing, ballistic missile submarine, strategic aircraft operations wing and global operations (space/cyberspace) unit. The tradition began as a single award in 1971, when the SCC created the trophy as a token of appreciation to (then) Strategic Air Command's best wing.

Those receiving awards represent units throughout USSTRATCOM which are critical to fulfilling the combatant command's primary mission: to detect, deter and prevent strategic attacks against the United States and its allies.

USSTRATCOM is one of nine unified commands under the Department of Defense and is responsible for strategic deterrence; space operations; cyberspace operations; joint electronic warfare; global strike; missile defense; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; combating weapons of mass destruction; and analysis and targeting. Adm. Haney utilizes various specialized subordinate commands and task forces to carry out USSTRATCOM's Unified Command Plan-assigned missions.

DFAC steps up ops during KR15

by Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel
7th Air Force Public Affairs

3/4/2015 - OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Stirred, chopped, baked, broiled or braised, any way you whisk it, the 51st Force Support Squadron has heated up its operations to accommodate increased customers during Key Resolve 2015.

During the two-week exercise the base can swell with more than 1,500 additional mouths to feed, ranging from fellow Airmen to joint service, coalition partners and civilians.

"The menus we're offering during Key Resolve are the same as normal, just in higher quantities due to the extra personnel, but there are some challenges," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Hammond, 51st FSS NCO in charge of Pacific House Dining Facility operations. "Cooking the correct amount of food takes more time and more staff."

Augmentees are brought in from around the Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps to fill in and take some of the stress off of the permanent party Airmen. Although these augmentees wear the same uniform, they are an integrated force of Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Airmen.

Airman 1st Class Andrew Flinn, an Illinois Air National Guardsman food service apprentice with the 183rd Force Support Squadron, took the opportunity to deploy to the Peninsula for the chance to learn.

"Breaking out of the one weekend a month mentality I have been in for the last year, has opened my eyes and given me the opportunity to support a big operation like this," said the Havana, Illinois, native. "Getting to know a new kitchen and learning new things like running the grill has been a huge plus, but the most rewarding opportunity has been to work within a new culture."

Flinn's Korean vocabulary has broadened from zero to a few short phrases he has learned from local civilian kitchen staff. He can often be heard uttering, "kam-sa-ham-ni-da," which means, "thank you." He also noted his Korean counterparts' extremely dedicated work ethics to make sure the massive meals are on time and cleaned up.

In addition to the help in the kitchen, Hammond noted the exercise is an excellent opportunity to improve operations.

"Augmentees come in with experience from their home bases and ideas we can learn from and utilize here at home station," he said. "So, this is a good opportunity to train and continue to sharpen our skills for the mission here."

Even though the manpower challenge is easily overcome, a temporary regulatory problem has caused a slight change in the menu.

"There is an embargo on chicken breast, which is what we use for a lot of our meals," Hammond said. "Easy fix; we just adjust to approved frozen or local chicken products to fill our menu. In some cases it has proven to provide a wider variety."

Reinforced with the 10 augmentees, five from each service, the DFAC has extended exercise hours and proven its non-stop commitment to excellence, Hammond said.

"It's always a good thing when we get a chance to meet and network," he said. "It provides a great opportunity to train to improve the quality of life we aim to give our teammates here at Osan and around the world during peacetime and contingency operations."

Lives changed by Military Youth Academy

by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs

3/4/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska  -- "I came here to turn my life around," said Bernice Morgan. "I was just hanging around with a bad crowd. If I was still with that crowd, I'd probably end up in jail or become homeless - someone who doesn't really have a future. In honor of my family, I chose to come here."

"I dropped out of high school," said Rafael Vicens. "I've wanted to be in the military since I was 12 years old. I was in the [Junior ROTC]. I was searching the internet for military opportunities and came across the Alaska Military Youth Academy. It seemed like a good idea. They said I could join when I turned 16."

Morgan and Vicens, cadets at the National Guard Alaska Military Youth Academy Challenge program, are examples of the many different lives Alaska's youth can lead. They enrolled in the AMYA at very different points in their lives, but both had something in common: they wanted to improve themselves.

Their cycle started Oct. 1, 2014.

"I prepared myself mentally because I knew this is a tough place," Morgan said. "It's the first time I've been away from my family. The first two weeks were really hard - I cried myself to sleep every night."

"I'm the first in my family to join," Vicens said. "The military movie that most appealed to me was 'Full Metal Jacket'. Some people get appalled, but I watched it and said 'that's for me.' I'm interested in [eventually joining] the Marine Corps. My main interest is for college; I want some kind of degree that will help me in law enforcement."

The mission of the AMYA is to help intervene in and reclaim the lives of Alaska's at-risk youth and produce graduates with the values, skills, education and self-discipline necessary to succeed as adults. The community-based program leads, trains and mentors 16 - to - 18-year-old Alaskans who have left high school without receiving a credential. The program is a military structured, 17-and-a-half month residential and nonresidential high school.

"I had to get used to getting up [at 6:10 a.m.], doing physical training, time crunches like shower time and schedules," Morgan said. "After acclimation graduation, things start getting easier. There are times I really want to quit and go home, but I just keep pushing myself. The training leaders say 'You made it this far; why quit?' You finish was you started. I push myself to the limits to finish something that's really hard. My goal is to improve my life and show my friends I can make it through this program."

"I've really been trying hard here; this is about the hardest I've ever worked in my life," Vicens said. "I've been motivated since day one."

Cadets are instructed in the following areas: life coping skills, academic excellence, job skills, responsible citizenship, leadership and followership, health and hygiene, physical fitness, and service to the community.

Around 20 weeks into the program, the cadets already noticed change in themselves.  

"Going through this program has been helping me a lot with self-discipline and integrity, confidence in myself, knowing that I can be who I want to be," Morgan said. "I can make myself what I want to be now instead of waiting until later in life ... I thought no one would listen to me and my opinions, but when I became a squad leader or platoon sergeant, they did. In our student government, we're making decisions that will effect the next cycle. I wasn't really a self confident person before I came here."

"Last Friday, we had the board for court sergeant major," Vicens said. "I won it; I'm the top cadet of the cycle. [I was] on top of my game in all subjects - academically, physically and behaviorally. I kept a good GPA, always turning in homework on time. I have the ability to help out other cadets who are having trouble academically and physically."

The cadets also have to work towards completion of their General Education Diploma, high school diploma or credit recovery.

"I enjoy writing a lot [and] I'm a people person," Morgan said. "I'm going to miss this; I'll miss my fellow cadets and groups here. We're still going to keep in contact. I'm going to take the respect and self-discipline with me. I'll keep my mind open to different opinions and ways of solving problems. It's not about what I want; it's about what the group needs."

"I never really considered myself a leader, but I'm told I've been doing a pretty good job at it," Vicens said. "A couple weeks ago, I started doing academics in the team leader room. I help out cadets who are on the verge of getting kicked out because they are failing classes. There's this cadet in our social studies class; he's really smart, but he never turns in his assignments. I was just helping him out, keeping him on topic. It's really good having everybody look up to me, making my team leaders proud of me. [That] boosts my confidence. This place is great. I've learned a lot of management and leadership skills. I've met my expectations."

Their academy schedule included tours of various military units on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to learn about different jobs and experiences. They got to see an F-22 Raptor up close and ride in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.  The cadets also took turns carrying various leadership positions; a few weeks at a time.

"I was picked to be the honorary guidon," Vickens said. "Then I became squad leader, platoon first sergeant, and [finally] all the way to corps first sergeant. I went on a board against other platoons. We tested and I happened to get it. They will pick another corps first sergeant after me; after that I get to keep the rank and I'll be a corps master sergeant, the highest rank in the academy."

As the big day came closer, the cadets said they looked forward to graduation.

"I still have to finish high school after this, and then I'm going to go to college and finish my education," Morgan said. "I'm looking forward to my family being at my graduation. They've given me the most support. I want them to see how much I've changed from the person I was before. I want them to see how much I've matured, my self-discipline and focus. I'm pretty excited about that, but I really do love my family with all my heart, and I thank them for supporting my decisions and everything they've done for me."

"I'm here to improve and be better than I was a year ago," Vicens said. "I was pretty different; it's been a big change. Now, I wake up every morning extremely motived; ready to go. I'll go back to get my high school diploma; I honestly regret dropping out - I should have stayed in school. I should have gotten all the credits possible and then come here. I'd get even more credits and be ahead in school, graduate early and move on to better things. That's why I came here. I plan to attend another military school in New Mexico, the New Mexico Military Institute. I'm going get my education first and go the officer route. I want a career in law enforcement."

Morgan and Vicens graduated with their class Feb. 27.

"I want my mom and dad to be proud," Vicens said. "I want them to see me as someone doing something that matters out there. There are careers that just care about money and themselves, but in the military, you're helping other people. You're actually changing something in society."

Marine Commandant Outlines Budget-based Priority Shifts

By Amaani Lyle
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2015 – The Marine Corps has adjusted to budget constraints by prioritizing the readiness of forward deployed forces, the service’s top officer told Congress yesterday.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee that amid budget uncertainty, the Marine Corps will strive to meet America’s expectations to successfully operate forward, engage with partners, deter potential adversaries and respond to crises, with 31,000 Marines currently forward deployed and engaged.

Recent Marine Corps missions, Dunford reported, include support to U.S. citizen evacuations in Sudan, Libya and Yemen, ongoing strikes in Syria and Iraq, Iraqi army training and U.S. Embassy protection in Baghdad.

Concurrently, 22,500 Marines remain west of the International Date Line in support of the U.S. rebalance to the Pacific region, the general said.

Budget Informs Decisions

The budget informs how the Marine Corps mans, trains and equips, Dunford said, and also informs how it prioritizes and allocates resources Congress allows.

“I can assure that your forward-deployed Marines are well-trained, well-led and well-equipped,” he told the senators, “but we’ve had to make tough choices to deal with the effects of two wars, sequestration in 2013, and reduced budgets in 2014 and 2015.”

But forward-deployed force readiness, Dunford acknowledged, has come at the expense of investments in home-station readiness, modernization, infrastructure sustainment and quality-of-life programs.

“Approximately half of our nondeployed units … who would respond to unforeseen contingencies suffer personnel, equipment or training shortfalls,” the admiral said. “In a major conflict, those shortfalls will result in a delayed response and/or the unnecessary loss of young American lives.”

Failure to Modernize Threatens Competitive Advantage

Over time, underinvesting in modernization will force the Marine Corps to maintain older, degraded or obsolete equipment at a higher cost, the commandant said. “It will eventually ruin our competitive advantage,” he added, “and we don’t ever want our Marines and sailors in a fair fight.”

Ultimately, the Marine Corps can meet defense strategic guidance requirements with the president’s fiscal year 2016 budget request, but there is no margin attached to that bottom line, Dunford emphasized.

“Funding below the president’s budget level will require we develop a new strategy,” the general told the Senate panel.

Budget Control Act funding levels, which currently require a return to sequestration spending cuts, would exacerbate the current readiness state, forcing of the Marine Corps to reduce the size of battalions and squadrons required to respond immediately to crises involving diplomatic posts, Americans citizens or U.S. interests.