Wicker Amendments Reinforce Preparedness, Security in Defense Bill

Provisions Support Mississippi’s Dynamic Role in Keeping Our Military Strong

June 2, 2014

With overwhelming bipartisan support, the Senate Armed Services Committee recently approved this year’s “National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA). The legislation outlines America’s military priorities and national security interests for the coming years.

As a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, I was successful in adding several provisions to the bill that would ensure our troops have the resources they need to fulfill their missions and keep our nation secure. Some of the highlights include:

• Strengthening our amphibious fleet. I am pleased that NDAA recognizes the importance of amphibious warships to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, which utilize them for diverse tasks – from major combat missions to disaster relief. Unfortunately, our military’s amphibious fleet is aging as warships reach the end of their expected service lives. In response to these challenges and future demands, NDAA includes my amendment to authorize funding for a twelfth LPD-17 warship. Keeping our amphibious fleet ready and capable is important to projecting U.S. power and countering threats around the world.

• Protecting Mississippi’s 155th. The National Guard is facing drastic changes under the Obama Administration’s proposal to reduce Army personnel and restructure its aviation program. I am glad the Committee approved an NDAA amendment I sponsored with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to delay these changes for one year until an independent commission can assess the Army’s needs. The amendment would also postpone the transfer of the National Guard’s Apache attack helicopters to the Army as outlined in the Army’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative. As Mississippians know, units like our state’s 155th Heavy Brigade Combat Team have provided critical support for U.S. operations at home and abroad. It would be a mistake to jeopardize this experience and investment by taking ill-considered action that limits the National Guard’s current capabilities.

• Fighting to keep C-130Js at Keesler. I have continually asked Air Force officials for more information about a proposed transfer of 10 C-130J transport aircraft from Keesler Air Force Base to Little Rock Air Force Base. Under the new NDAA bill, the Air Force would be prohibited from transferring the aircraft until 60 days after submitting a certified report to Congress. These reports would evaluate the move’s national security implications and its impact on the facility losing the aircraft. A detailed assessment is needed to demonstrate whether the transfer from Keesler – widely recognized as the top Air Force installation in America – would actually produce projected budgetary savings.

• Preventing military suicides. Another important amendment I sponsored in this year’s NDAA would assist service members in getting the mental health care they may need. Currently, those who are deployed receive the most comprehensive screenings, despite the fact that the majority of military suicides occur among those who have never been deployed. To combat this tragic and increasingly pervasive problem, my amendment with Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) would require in-person mental health screenings each year for all members of the military.

This year’s NDAA still has to be approved by the full Senate, but its Committee passage represents significant progress in creating a blueprint for America’s defense spending. With top-notch Air Force bases and versatile National Guard units, Mississippi continues to do its part in keeping our military strong. Although the reality of sequestration’s defense cuts remains a challenge, there is bipartisan agreement that America’s readiness and security must be prioritized.