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Ex-AF leaders to Congress: Stop the sequester

Feb. 22, 2013 - 01:55PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 22, 2013 - 01:55PM  |  
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ORLANDO, Fla. — More than 30 former U.S. Air Force officials have joined forces to send congressional leadership a strongly worded letter asking them to spare the Defense Department from the "foolish" impacts of sequestration.

Twenty-five retired Air Force generals, three former secretaries of the Air Force and three other former officials signed the letter, which was organized by the Air Force Association.

"The Department of Defense has already absorbed $487B in budget cuts — contributing its fair share to help put the Nation's fiscal house back in order," reads the letter, which was addressed to Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, as well as Reps. John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi in the House.

"Additional funding reductions precipitated through the continuing resolution and sequestration will fundamentally undermine basic military preparedness. It is one thing to be prudently efficient, quite another to be strategically foolish," the letter reads.

The former officials list a handful of programs as essential, including halting nuclear proliferation, maintaining the nuclear triad and protecting access to resources.

"These missions are not optional," stated the former officials. "They stand as fundamental imperatives necessary to ensure national solvency — from both an economic and security perspective."

The writers describe the passage of sequestration as a betrayal of troops stationed worldwide.

Military personnel risk their lives "with the firm belief that our Nation's leaders will do everything possible to equip them for success," wrote the officials. "The combined effects of the continuing resolution and sequestration will break that pledge."

The letter was crafted with deliberate focus on the overarching national security picture, Douglas Birkey, director of government relations for AFA, wrote in an email.

"We clearly are concerned about issues affecting airmen. However, there are a tier of interests that transcend to a higher level — this is one of them. At the end of the day, the country does not have Air Force interests, it has strategic national interests.

"Men and women in uniform don't have the option of choosing inaction — they'll have to do their best amidst some very difficult circumstances," Birkey wrote. "If history is any guide, that has a tendency to translate into lives lost and strategic objectives ceded. It would behoove Members of Congress and the President to remember that as they continue to pursue partisan intransigence versus compromise."

F. Whitten Peters, James Roche and Michael Wynne, the last three non-acting secretaries of the Air Force, signed the letter. Other notables include retired Gens. Duncan McNabb, a former Air Force chief of staff; William Looney, the former head of Air Education and Training Command; and Lance Lord, who was in charge of Air Force Space Command.

Mark Lewis, former Air Force chief scientist; Gerald Murray, retired chief master sergeant; and Richard Hallion, former historian of the Air Force, joined the three secretaries as the only non-generals to sign the letter.

"I'm not against cuts in the defense budget in general," Peters told Defense News at this week's Air Force Association conference. "I think some cuts are fine. But I think the timing on this is incredibly inappropriate."

Peters said the biggest issue with sequestration is the lack of reprogramming authority, which would allow Air Force budget personnel to manage where the cuts take impact. Not being able to manage the cuts, which come as the military shifts out of 12 years in Afghanistan, makes the budget hit particularly brutal.

"I think this is a major problem for all of the services that are trying to recover from a wartime footing," Peters said. "As we come out of Afghanistan and shift to so-called peacetime operations, we have to be able to fund those things that are necessary for peacetime operations, which were underfunded during the war."

"Some flexibility to be able to keep the units you need today for the war and tomorrow for the peace," he said.

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