Defense Secretary Mark Esper made a Today Show appearance on Friday, capping off a week of tragedy and controversy for the department and the military.
Host Savannah Guthrie asked Esper whether two recent terrorist shootings at Navy bases made him worried about a surge in targeting the military at home, as news broke Monday that the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, shooter had deep links to al-Qaida, and three days later, the FBI confirmed that a shooter at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, could have been linked to terror groups.
“I am very concerned about both cases,” he said, without commenting on any potential pattern between the December shooting and Thursday’s incident.
“We’re looking at additional measures we will take to ensure that foreign-inspired terrorists don’t have access to our posts, bases, installations and ― of course ― our country,” he said.
Esper confirmed that unlike the Pensacola shooter, a Saudi flight school trainee, the Corpus Christi shooter had no military affiliation.
Esper also responded to a furor that erupted this week, as a report surfaced that the White House intended to order an end to the National Guard’s coronavirus pandemic support mission on June 24, exactly one day short of the 90-day requirement for members to receive certain federal retirement and education benefits.
“Intentionally ending orders one day short of a deadline for National Guard soldiers to receive benefits for their heroic sacrifices is the definition of heartless,” said Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., a captain in the New York National Guard who deployed with his unit for two weeks in April to help with local coronavirus support missions.
The order was a replay of a similar April controversy, when the White House ordered that the initial Guard deployment last 30 days, one day short of another benefits-triggering milestone.
“If they have a valid, what we call ‘mission assignment,’ that’s verified by FEMA, then my view is we should extend those tours of duty, if you will,” Esper said. “I’ve shared that with the governors, I’ve shared that with the White House. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Esper did not respond to allegations that the move to cut off mobilizations at 89 days was intentional.
“I’m not going to comment on the details of what’s being reported out there in the media,” he said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.