Job No. 1 of our nation’s commander-in-chief is, as the Preamble to the Constitution describes, providing for the common defense.
This duty to the people requires a trained, modernized military force with sufficient capacity to accomplish an ever-expanding set of complex missions.
Defending critical infrastructure at home and abroad, responding on short notice to humanitarian and natural disasters, and building the military capacity of allies and partners are all important missions. But the no-fail mission, the unwavering bond with the people of our nation, is to deter those who threaten America, Americans and American interests and, when deterrence fails, to defeat our enemies in battle wherever and whenever it may occur.
America’s Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard — active, National Guard and Reserve — must be manned, trained and modernized to prevail across the full range of military activities. The commander-in-chief and the Congress bear shared responsibility for leading the way to make this possible.
The Joint Chiefs, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, have warned that our armed forces are at a state of high risk in having sufficient capacity, capability and sustainability for major confrontations. This is where President Donald Trump’s leadership is needed.
Today’s Army, while inarguably the best army on the planet, is too small and insufficiently modernized to meet the global demands placed on it. The commander-in-chief and Congress have the opportunity now to close troubling gaps; regain critical combat and operational readiness; and to balance, size and position of the Army to meet current and future strategic requirements.
Mr. Trump and Congress already have signaled their intent to reverse the downsizing of the Army. The president’s proposal to add 60,000 Regular Army soldiers must, however, come fully funded for training and modernization, pay and benefits. Adding more troops without full support leads to what many call a “hollow force.”
The single most effective measure to enhance military readiness, however, would be to restore adequate, stable, predictable levels of funding for the Army and all of the military services. Congress must remove budget caps preventing growth in defense spending and repeal the threat of sequestration, the automatic cuts that occur when a bipartisan budget agreement isn’t reached. As he was campaigning for our nation’s highest office, Mr. Trump called for the elimination of military sequestration, and almost every member of Congress has decried it as a strategically foolish way of doing business.
That’s not all. The president’s leadership is also needed to provide budgetary stability by stopping the unfortunate and disruptive practice of beginning each new fiscal year under emergency funding. Temporary funding provided through a continuing resolution precludes the start of new projects, wreaks havoc with responsible budget execution and sows uncertainty in the ranks.
More than a decade of combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have left the Army optimized for combatting terrorism and conducting counterinsurgency operations, but with significant gaps in capabilities against near-peer adversaries. Worrisome shortfalls exist in air and missile defense, long-range fires, as well as the lethality and survivability of Brigade Combat Teams. The Army is behind in fielding the next generation of tactical vehicles and needs to improve tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems and aviation assets.
The technological advantage once enjoyed by the U.S. Army is quickly eroding. We owe it to the men and women who voluntarily step forward to protect us to do everything we can to ensure they never engage in a fair fight.
Equipment isn’t our only concern. The Regular Army, Army National Guard, Army Reserve and Army civilian work forces need attention, professional development opportunities and adequate compensation for their patriotic service. Soldiers, civilians and their families, our military communities and the defense industry need more than a decent paycheck and occasional pat on the back. They need to feel respected.
• Gen. Carter F. Ham retired from the U.S. Army in 2013 after almost 38 years of service in a career that spanned from serving as an enlisted infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division to serving as U.S. Army Europe commanding general and as U.S. Africa Command commander. Commissioned in 1976 after graduating from John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was a distinguished military graduate, Gen. Ham has served in Italy, Germany, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Macedonia, Qatar, Iraq and 40 African countries. He became president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army, an educational nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia, on July 1, 2016.