CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan, July 30, 2011 — Budget cuts — not operational issues — are the main concern of soldiers and Marines assigned here.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is holding troop talks throughout the country and is being peppered with questions about the U.S. debt crisis and the future of military benefits.
Mullen thanked service members in Kandahar and here for their sacrifices. At both talks he stressed the effects of change and being ready for unexpected change. He also stressed the need for leadership at all levels.
Then he threw the floor open for questions. In both places, soldiers and Marines expressed concern about the debt negotiations. “The discussion really centers on providing by law an increase in the debt ceiling so the United States can pay its bills,” the chairman said. “And the bills really run the full spectrum. I really don’t know the answer to the question to how, if we default, how that will work out.”
The U.S. Treasury delivers service members’ pay checks, and sends them to veterans and Social Security recipients. “That’s something that the government leadership will have to figure out,” he said. “I honestly hope we don’t get there. But I don’t expect it will affect — certainly in the short term — operations here and operations around the world.”
Assuming a solution to the debt crisis is reached, the chairman discussed what the defense budget will look like. He said there is increasing pressure overall on the federal budget to reduce the deficit. This has to be addressed, he said.
“I’ve said for a long time, I believe that the single biggest threat to national security is this growing debt,” he said. “The more that grows the more likelihood that the defense budget will get smaller.”
This is a problem because no one knows what could confront the United States in the future. “We have some significant national security requirements to meet now, and the best I can tell, they are not going to go away,” Mullen said. “As that budget pressure builds … we’re going to have to make decisions on what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do.”
Still, the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are on the top of the Defense Department’s priority list. All the defense leaders, he said, “are very focused on getting you what you need here in the fight. I don’t see any circumstances where that won’t be at the top of the list.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)