Susie Brodeur was living in Alaska with her 3- and 7-year old children when her husband, Air Force Maj. David Brodeur, was killed in an insider attack during a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan. After Major Brodeur's death, Susie moved her family to her home state of Colorado, away from their military network in Alaska. She saved up to buy a house and has been raising her children as a single parent ever since. Money can be tight, she says. With her children still coping with their dad's death, Brodeur is careful not to work too many hours. But the loss of her husband's income was a big adjustment, she says. “It was scary not knowing where that next dollar [was] going to come from,” Brodeur says. Military spouses who lose a servicemember on active duty and some spouses of retirees who die from service-connected illnesses or injuries receive a monthly benefit payment called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from the VA. (The tax-free payment comes out to about $1,258 per month.) Spouses also can receive Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity payments if their servicemember opted into the voluntary program at retirement, and spouses whose servicemember died while on active duty automatically receive SBP annuity payments. But current law requires every dollar spouses receive in DIC benefits be deducted from their SBP annuity payment. That offset leaves most surviving spouses losing out on about $15,000 annually, in what's often referred to as the “widows tax.” “The fact that the government is withholding that from us is really sad,” Brodeur says. “It really surprises me that they're not taking care of all families as well as they possibly can.” After several years of advocacy from MOAA and The Military Coalition, Congress agreed and authorized a special allowance in 2008, which helps survivors recoup a portion of the offset. That Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) serves as a rebate, giving spouses of the fallen an additional $310 per month - equal to about 25 percent of what they lose from the SBP/DIC offset. Now the future of that allowance is at risk too, since it's set to expire at the end of May 2018. Losing SSIA would leave families like Brodeur's down $3,720 annually. MOAA urges lawmakers to take another look at the widows tax. Congress should end the SBP/DIC offset entirely - or at least extend and increase the SSIA to help make up the difference, says Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), MOAA's vice president of Government Relations. “The SBP/DIC offset is grossly unfair and should be repealed,” Merry says. “When military service causes the death of the servicemember, VA indemnity pay [DIC] should be paid in addition to the SBP annuity - not subtracted from it.” An unfair burden Like Brodeur, Traci Voelke is one of more than 60,000 military spouses who lose a portion of their SBP annuity each month. When Voelke's husband, Army Maj. Paul Voelke, died in a 2012 vehicle accident in Afghanistan, her family lost not only a spouse and a father, but also their financial security. “I lost my husband in the middle of his career, along with his income and earning potential,” she says. “Without the additional SBP, my monthly payments aren't even half of what he was earning.” The VA created DIC in the 1950s so surviving spouses would be compensated for economic losses they suffered as a result of a veteran's death. About two decades later, DoD established SBP to ensure surviving dependents of military personnel who died in retirement would continue to have a reasonable income level. Retirees can purchase SBP so their spouses continue getting a portion of their retirement after their death. But the payment often is canceled out by DIC, says Mary Craven, the wife of an Air Force officer who died from a service-connected illness in 1978. “Why have two programs if one wipes out the other?” she asks. “The service caused his death. The service should pay extra for that, rather than cancelling part of the insurance he bought for me.” On the active duty side, SBP serves as an income supplement for surviving spouses. That's important, says Voelke, because military spouses often are on the move, and many don't have steady careers. “I was never able to build up my own pension in an organization long enough,” Voelke says. “My husband's pension is what we had relied upon for our retirement.” Spouses like Brodeur, Voelke, and Craven often are shocked to learn their SBP annuities will be reduced by any money they receive from DIC. Six years after her husband's death, Brodeur's children now are 9 and 13. With no plans to remarry, Brodeur says she needs to be able to support not only her children but herself far into the future. “I've been alone now for six years,” Brodeur says. “I have to do the job of two people and then some. It's not easy. When the government takes away the money from the lone survivor - the spouse - it really hurts.” Those who gave all Before Voelke's husband died, the U.S. Military Academy grad penned an op-ed in a local newspaper on Veterans Day about why he wanted to be an Army officer. He considered himself fortunate to serve alongside soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. “They are people who live selfless service,” Paul Voelke wrote. “They ask their families to sacrifice - spouses who have to put down roots every few years in a new place, make new friends, [and] learn new school systems and often do it alone.” Brodeur says service to country was equally important to her husband, who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. “He was beyond the word 'patriotic,' ” she says. Years after losing their husbands, Brodeur and Voelke continue to sacrifice. They've moved their families across the country alone and have faced tough choices as single parents about how to raise their children. Brodeur has put off buying a new family car or taking care of certain home repairs since her husband died. She also has tapped into her savings account to cover some of her kids' education expenses. “Money cannot buy happiness, but it can grant [my kids] opportunities to enjoy themselves, to wear nicer clothes, to be able to take vacations, and just be [kids],” Brodeur says. Repealing the SBP/DIC offset “would take a little bit of the stress away. I would ask [lawmakers] to stop and look at the families,” Brodeur says. “Especially the young ones who have young children - think about what their future will be like after they lose a parent.” Voelke says she is certain the SBP/DIC offset is an oversight, that it's not what Congress intended for the families of fallen military personnel. “Following the advice of Abraham Lincoln 'to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,' we need to protect the families of those who gave all,” Voelke says. By: Gina Harkins
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. proudly presented a $100,000 donation today to the World War I Centennial Commission in support of the upcoming “Centennial Commemoration of the U.S. Entry into World War I” event on April 6. The donation represents the VFW’s long-standing dedication to ensuring the service and sacrifice of America’s service men and women are never forgotten. “Since our founding in 1899, the VFW has proudly supported and welcomed home every generation of servicemen and women who served overseas, to include tens of thousands of Great War veterans who played an integral part in shaping and leading our great organization for decades to come,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy. “We are proud to be a presenting sponsor of this commemoration ceremony, which fittingly takes place at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in the heart of Kansas City, just blocks from the VFW’s national headquarters.” Today’s presentation, led by Debra Anderson, VFW quartermaster general and commissioner with the World War I Centennial Commission, also served to reinforce the collective support the VFW has pledged for the World War I Centennial Commemoration. “For nearly 118 years, the VFW has worked to ensure all who protect our country receive the recognition they deserve,” said Anderson. “As a World War I Commemorative Partner, the VFW and its network of 1.7 million VFW and Auxiliary members are dedicated to preserving the history and importance of the Great War.” The April 6 event will tell the compelling story surrounding America’s entry into World War I a century ago, and is being held at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. More information on WWI centennial events can be found at ww1cc.org/events. Photo caption: VFW Quartermaster General Debra Anderson (center) presents a $100,000 check to President and CEO of the National WWI Museum and Memorial Dr. Matt Naylor (left), and WWI Centennial Commissioner Dr. Monique Seefried (right) during today’s press event.
It’s that time of the year again. Online registration for the 2017 American Legion Legacy Run went live March 21. To register or for more information, click here. This year’s ride will leave Fort Dodge, Kan., Aug. 12 and travel west to Reno, Nev. – site for the 2017 American Legion National Convention. The cross-country motorcycle ride raises money for The American Legion Legacy Fund, which provides college money for the children of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the children of post-9/11 veterans with a combined VA disability rating of 50-percent or higher. Last year's Legacy Run raised more than $1 million for the second straight year; in 11 years, the ride has raised more than $7 million. Those registering online will be provided with a copy of their registration and release form, as well as a confirmation email. Those preferring to print out and mail a registration form with a check or money can send do so via email. A downloadable registration form will be available soon. Registration packets and commemorative patches are expected to be mailed out in early August. To pre-order Legacy Run T-shirts, click here. These orders will be shipped directly from Emblem Sales. Registration is open to passengers and riders, as well as to non-riding supporters. Non-riding supporters who register for $25 or more will receive the full registration package with map books and patches. Because of the distance needing to be covered and the geography of the area along this year’s Legacy Run, mid-day stops cannot be planned for Legion posts or other large venues that provide food for purchase on-site. Participants are encouraged to purchase lunches during registration; those who do not pre-purchase the lunches will be expected to bring their own food each day and safely transport it. Meals must be ordered in advance of departure. There will be no food available for purchase on stops, and there will be neither time nor available food outlets for riders to leave the group to find and eat lunch on their own each day. Those who do not sign up for lunches during registration but later decide to add them can do so via email. Check back at www.legion.org/riders for updated route information and hotel suggestions within the next few weeks.
Thousands of veterans and active military personnel visit Branson, MO every year and they do their best to show gratitude. Branson honors their service with special deals and discounts on all aspects of their trip, standing tributes before the shows, memorials and exhibits, military reunions and renowned national events like Veterans Week in November. Military veterans, active-duty men and women, and military families are held in very high esteem. Here’s a guide to all things they can enjoy in Branson. Attractions Whether you’re looking to snap hilarious keepsake photographs at the Hollywood Wax Museum, be wowed at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, discover artifacts at the Titanic Museum or experience a one-of-a-kind land and water tour with Ride the Ducks, many of Branson’s top attractions offer $2-$3 discounts on tickets for active and retired military and their families. One of the most popular deals is offered at the must-see Silver Dollar City and White Water amusement parks where you can receive a two-day ticket for the price of a one-day ticket, or $5 off a one-day ticket. Dependent military children age 4-11 receive complimentary two-day tickets when they are accompanied by a parent purchasing a two-day military ticket. Dining Enjoy discounts of 10-15% at a number of Branson’s restaurants including Famous Dave’s BBQ, Golden Coral, Chili’s, Olive Garden and Shoney’s. On Veterans Day, many locations also offer free meals to honor our men and women who have served. Hotels & Lodging A variety of hotels honor veterans and military personnel with 10-20% off (depending on the season). Enjoy a discounted stay at the luxurious Chateau on the Lake or the family-friendly Grand Country Resort. The new, state-of-the-art Hilton Branson Convention Center features a military and veteran discount, as well as a prime location. It’s walking distance to Branson Landing and downtown. Other popular favorites include La Quinta Inn Branson Strip, Marriott’s Willow Ridge Lodge and the Barrington Hotel & Suites. Many of the popular name hotels that offer military discounts nationally have locations in Branson including Best Western, Clarion Hotel, Comfort Inn, Days Inn, Quality Inn and Wyndham. Shows Every theater in Branson is a sponsor of the Veterans Task Force. Many of the shows not only kick off with a touching salute to veterans but most offer discounts of 10-20%. The Acrobats of China also feature a special Veteran VIP ticket which is 30% off their usual VIP ticket price. Some other shows with popular discounts include the Baldknobbers Jamboree, Dixie Stampede, SIX and the Texas Tenors. Shopping Veterans and active military personnel will enjoy a discount at many of the top name factory stores at the Tanger Outlet including Ann Taylor, Colombia, Eddie Bauer, Dressbarn, Gap, Nike, Old Navy, Ralph Lauren and Under Armour. The outlet mall also offers active Military personnel and their families a free coupon book. Or head over to Bass Pro Shops between the 15th and 22nd of each month when you can receive 10% off select items. Transportation All top name car rental facilities, in and around Branson, offer great discounts for veterans and military personnel. At Avis, you can receive a discount of up to 25%, Alamo and National offer up to 20%, and Enterprise, founded by a WWII veteran, features an entire Veterans Advantage Discount program. Military Reunions in Branson As the year-round home for America’s veterans, Branson is a popular destination for military reunions. Lodging and meeting venues around town specialize in military reunions and offer planners assistance with arranging the perfect event. The Branson/Lakes Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Contact the Branson Chamber for help with planning your next military reunion. Rather than contact dozens of hotels, their complimentary service will help connect you with a venue that is a good fit for meeting your reunion needs. Dixie Stampede The Missing Man Table & Honors Ceremony recognizes all branches of service, acknowledges the missing and their absence from the night’s celebration. Dixie Stampede will dedicate the Military Memorial Ceremony free of charge for reunion groups of 15 or more with paid advance reservations to their popular dinner attraction. Military and Veterans Exhibits Challenge Coin Tables at Shindigs Restaurant Shindigs would like to turn as many tables in the restaurant as possible into “Challenge Coin” tables. If your reunion is in Branson, visit their tables, share your story, and if you want to be represented, leave them a coin. Missouri Vietnam Veterans Memorial Located at the entrance of College of the Ozarks, the Missouri Vietnam Veterans Memorial bears the name of more than 1,400 Missourians who served and died in the Vietnam War. Veterans Memorial Museum Located on Highway 76, this museum is hard to miss—just look for the P-51 Mustang fighter. The Veterans Memorial Museum is a moving tribute to those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces across all branches of service. Exhibits include sculptures, murals and thousands of pieces of military memorabilia. There are also displays throughout the museum with names of the soldiers killed in action since World War II. Veterans Patch Wall At Grand Country Inn, discover an exhibit with hundreds of patches from various military branches, units and divisions. Veterans Reunion Registry The Veterans Reunion Registry is a free service in Branson giving veterans the opportunity to locate others that served in their unit. Veterans Homecoming Week This seven-day event is held every year, November 5-11, as both a tribute and celebration of veterans. Festivities include America’s biggest Veterans Day tribute, a Veteran’s Day Parade (now over 80 years), themed shows, memorial ceremonies and more.
We’ve come a long way since a few brave women abandoned traditional roles as seamstresses or cooks and instead served in combat – disguised as men – alongside their husbands during the American Revolution. Women have a larger presence in our military today than ever before. With more than 200,000 women serving in the active-duty military, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) predicted that by 2020 women veterans will comprise nearly 11 percent of the total veteran population. Every day, our servicewomen and our military take giant leaps forward that pave the path for our next generation of heroes. Here are some of the major milestones for women in the military: From 1917 to 1918, women were officially permitted to join the military. In the last two years of WWI, 33,000 joined as nurses and support staff. From 1941 to 1945, 400,000 women served at home and abroad in non-combat roles during WWII. In 1948, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which entitled women to veteran benefits and granted them permanent, regular, and reserve status in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-106, permitting women to enter U.S. military academies as students for the first time. And in 1976, 119 women entered West Point, 81 entered the U.S. Naval Academy, and 157 entered the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 1994, Defense Secretary Les Aspin announced the new policy regarding women in combat that rescinded the 1988 “risk rule.” It was replaced with a less restrictive ground combat policy, which resulted in 80 percent of all military positions being open to men and women. In 2009, the first all-female U.S. Marine Corps team conducted its first mission in Southern Afghanistan. In 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that all military positions would be opened to women by 2016. In 2015, 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest earned their Ranger tabs, becoming the first two women to successfully complete the U.S. Army’s Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter reaffirmed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s commitment and permitted all women to apply for combat positions beginning January 1, 2016. This shift opened the opportunity for women to fill 220,000 military combat positions. When I served in the military, all roles were not open to women, but I always felt I was evaluated based on my performance and abilities. I learned many lessons during my time at West Point and in the Army that have guided me throughout my career and life. Now – in 2017 – our military is comprised of men and women who serve in all roles – combat and non-combat. I am proud to say that all branches of the military are creating opportunities for women – from occupational specialists to officers – to succeed within the system based on ability, not gender. According to the most recent U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings, there are 996 women enrolled at the United States Air Force Academy, 826 women enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and 1,135 women enrolled at the United States Naval Academy. In 2015, I attended the Ranger School graduation that included the first two female Ranger School graduates, which made me reflect on how far we’ve come as a military and as a country. I’m amazed by the many women who have bravely pushed boundaries to allow women to serve to their fullest capacity. And today’s servicewomen and veterans – who continue to thrive and push for female-oriented benefits through VA – give me hope for our future. Jennifer Silva, Contributor Veterans Advocate
Over the past several years, American Legion Riders from Chapter 374 in Omaha, Neb., have raised thousands of dollars during their annual poker run for the Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program. In preparation for this year’s event, the Riders wanted to highlight a Nebraska veteran who has benefited from an OCW grant. However, when Department of Nebraska Adjutant and Legion Rider Dave Salak called National Headquarters, he learned an OCW grant has never been requested from the department. This prompted Salak to contact the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System in Omaha and ask if “there was something that The American Legion could do to help them and (Brett Stidfole and I) put together a wish list,” Salak said. “I was overwhelmed when National approved everything on that list and still bought some extra comfort items. (OCW is) a truly generous program!” An $8,000 grant was presented to the Omaha VA on March 14, which included health and hygiene items, kayaks, fishing poles, ping pong table, dart boards and a Bowflex machine. “What this donation will do is help the veterans connect back into the community, with nature and with their families. It will not only help in behavior change with the veterans, but increase their social, cognitive and motor skills as well,” said Brett Stidfole, a recreational therapist in the hospital’s residential unit. Stidfole has surveyed the veterans in the past about what equipment they wanted to have on hand to aid in their recovery, so the items OCW donated were an answer to their needs. The OCW donation “is their voice as well,” Stidfole said. “We are all very appreciative of this grant because we know how much it means to our veterans and to our staff because we know how much it’s going to help the veterans with their recovery. All these items are proven to decrease depression and anxiety, and increase well-being.” During the presentation of the comfort items to Omaha VA staff, National Vice Commander Douglas Boldt spoke about the mission of OCW and the impact it’s had on wounded servicemembers, veterans and their families. “This donation was special to me because I have spoken at several fundraisers for OCW but have never been involved with delivering the goods,” Boldt said. Other Legion family members involved with the donation delivery included Department of Nebraska Commander Beth Linn, and Legion Riders from Chapter 374 helped purchase, pack and deliver the items as well. The donation “was way more than we ever imagined that we would get from the program. It’s incredible,” Salak said. “You could just see the looks on (hospital staff’s) faces during the delivery about how incredible the program is. OCW is based on what our organization is all about, which is helping veterans who need that extra support.”
NEW YORK (AP) -- IBM plans to hire 2,000 U.S. veterans over the next four years as part of a broader expansion plan. The company said in December that it hopes to hire 25,000 people over the next four years, partly for what it calls "new collar jobs" where a four-year degree isn't necessarily required. IBM, based in Armonk, New York, has also expanded a program to train vets in software used in the defense and law enforcement industries.
The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program donated $4,800 worth of comfort items and necessities to the U.S. VETS homeless center Feb. 28 in conjunction with the Legion’s 57th annual Washington Conference in Washington, D.C. The grant was delivered by the American Legion Department of D.C. during the Veteran Employment and Education Commission’s tour of the facility. The donation included clothing, grooming/hygiene items, eyewear, 30 sets of bed linens and blankets, pillows, laundry detergent pods, as well as $1,000 worth of bus passes and gas cards to help veterans find new employment. OCW has delivered more than $500,000 in grants to veterans across the nation in the last three years. The program provides various items, depending on need – clothing and toiletries for homeless shelters like U.S. VETS, sports equipment for sports adaptive therapy programs and kitchen supplies for long-term warrior transition facilities. As the only veterans service organization (VSO) in D.C. that offers a variety of in-house programs and services, U.S. VETS Executive Director Clifton Lewis said the center gets referrals from all other VSOs in the area because it can serve any and all veterans. “This is a unique situation for us,” he said. “Not only do we service Washington, D.C., (but we also) service Montgomery County (and) Prince George’s County (in Maryland, plus) Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax (in Virginia).” With 21 residential sites and nine service centers in 14 cities across six states, D.C. and the territory of Guam, U.S. VETS personnel go into local communities to find homeless veterans and guide them to crucial services. The range of services includes housing and employment assistance, as well as access to veterans benefits and treatment for mental and physical health problems and substance abuse. “I definitely feel like I needed a change in my life,” said veteran Alexander Smith III who lives and volunteers at the D.C. facility. “It’s therapeutic for me to volunteer and do things … just being motivated and doing whatever I can do, it helps me.” Outreach specialist Sheila Scarborough, an Army veteran who was homeless in 2013, said helping other veterans is her passion because she knows what it’s like to go through challenges. “I know what it feels like to lose your place or lose your job and to lose everything that you acquired,” Scarborough said. “There are homeless vets out here. People didn’t ask to be in this situation. It happens and it can happen to anyone.” By getting involved with the efforts of U.S. VETS, Scarborough said the Legion will get a firsthand view of what “transitional” looks like and be able to spread the message about homelessness among veterans. “It should go worldwide, statewide so that (others) will know that it’s time we help our soldiers, our vets,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing because it gives (the Legion) an idea of what’s going on.” Assisting veterans was at the core of the Legion’s formation nearly a century ago. “The American Legion has always been about helping veterans so it’s just a pleasure to be able to do that, particularly for the most vulnerable demographic,” said Mark Walker, deputy director of the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Division. “It’s satisfying and meaningful that the Legion has prioritized assisting our homeless veterans. It’s a joy to be able to work with folks who have that same passion to help them.” OCW coordinator Bruce Drake said donations come from across the entire American Legion Family and the general population. The OCW program represents the Legion’s expression of gratitude to those who sacrificed to protect the freedoms of others. “The grants are designed to provide the items that often are overlooked in the care of a veteran and can be resourced to help them from having to buy it themselves,” said Drake, assistant director of troop and family support for the Legion’s Americanism Division. “This grant will help homeless veterans in providing them a means of staying healthy and clean with the use of hygiene items while the linens will also help them in settling into the facility and their new living arrangement.” By Johnathon Clinkscales
American Legion service officers today are helping more than 700,000 veterans and their families, free of charge, file disability claims, benefits applications and other forms of assistance. Meanwhile, military and veteran families with minor children at home, when struck with unexpected costs that leave them unable to pay for basic household needs, receive more than $500,000 in emergency funding a year from The American Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance program. Both programs depend on charitable contributions to offer the free assistance. That’s why American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt has made service officer training and Temporary Financial Assistance for needy families with children at home the focus of his fundraising project this year. To make a tax-deductible contribution to help National Commander Schmidt reach his goal of $1 million for service officer training and $1 million for Temporary Financial Assistance before the 99th American Legion National Convention in Reno in August, checks can be made payable to American Legion Charities (write “Commander’s Charity Fund” on the memo line) and mailed to: The American Legion National Headquarters 5745 Lee Road Indianapolis, IN 46216 Safe and convenient online giving is also available for those who would like to help the commander reach his goal of assisting needy children and service officers. To make an online donation, visit www.legion.org/donate and send your gift using a credit or debit card. It is also possible to make an online donation a recurring donation. Those who have questions, or would like to make a contribution by phone, can call 1-800-433-3318. All donations to the Commander’s Charity Fund are processed through American Legion Charities, which has tax-deductible 501(c)(3) status. One-hundred percent of all gifts to the Commander’s Charity Fund goes directly to help service officers and needy families. "Our post motto is veterans first, so we believe in Commander Schmidt’s project of supporting TFA and service officers,” Newport Beach, Calif., American Post 291 Commander Douglas Nye said recently after his post presented the commander with a check for $5,000 to help. “And we believe in what The American Legion does. His fundraising project hits home because we have a lot of vets … that need our help."
The U.S. military’s once-unrivaled technology edge is disappearing. The warning signs are everywhere. From the military: Before leaving his post as Air Force chief of staff last year, Gen. Mark Welsh reported that China will soon field an air force “at least as big – if not bigger – than our air force” and that China is matching quantity with next-generation quality. China is developing and deploying “a number of new aircraft ... completely new variants,” Welsh noted. “We are not keeping up with that kind of technology development.” From policymakers: “Our technological superiority is slipping,” warns Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, who has served under both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump. “We see it every day.” From our adversaries: Russia’s new electronic warfare capabilities can jam, scramble and blind U.S. assets. China’s cyber-siege of the United States is decimating industry, holding hostage the U.S. government and weakening U.S. defenses. Both Russia and China are catching up with the United States in stealth capabilities, networked warfare, power projection and precision missilery. And from the frontlines, where U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are being forced to make the most of aging equipment: The Navy has been ordered to stretch the build time of new aircraft carriers from five to seven years. Short on ships, Marines are hitching a ride on allied vessels. The Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson warns, “To say the Army isn’t ready for what lies ahead is an understatement: if it got in a fight with Russian troops in Ukraine, Poland or the Baltic states, the Army could quickly see all of its key targeting and communications systems shut down by enemy jammers.” The Lexington Institute adds, “When the Cold War ended, the Defense Department terminated production of the B-2 and ceased development of new bombers for the first time since the 1920s.” Thanks to this bomber-building holiday, America’s bomber force comprises just 76 B-52s (the “newest” of which was built in 1961), 63 B-1s (brought into service in 1986) and 20 B-2s (the first rolled off assembly lines in 1988). Initial operational capability of the yet-to-be-built B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber will not come until 2025. Winning or losing Why is this happening? It’s not because the United States suddenly became less technologically capable than China and Russia. The reason the military-technology gap is closing is threefold. First, since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. military has been focused on dismantling terrorist networks and clearing the spawning grounds of terrorism – and understandably so. But this has expended resources that otherwise would have been allocated toward new technologies and new weapons systems. China and Russia have not been standing still. Instead, they “have gone to school on us,” in Work’s words, and invested their resources into fielding 21st-century militaries. Second, while Washington has been cutting defense spending, China and Russia have been increasing defense spending. Between 2011 and 2015, Beijing increased military spending 55.7 percent. Last year, Beijing increased military spending another 7 percent. Between 2010 and 2020, it’s expected that Beijing will double its military outlays. Moscow increased military spending 108 percent between 2004 and 2013; Moscow’s 2015 military outlays were 26 percent larger than in 2014. All the while, U.S. defense spending has been falling. The U.S defense budget – in a time of war and growing international instability – has fallen 15 percent since 2010. The U.S. defense budget has shrunk from 4.6 percent of GDP in 2009, to around 3 percent of GDP today. Looked at another way, national security spending made up 20.1 percent of the federal budget in 2010, but in 2015 it was 15.9 percent, as Politifact details. Not surprisingly, defense R&D spending has plummeted accordingly – down 22.6 percent since 2009. Defense R&D spending has fallen from nearly 0.9 percent of GDP in 1988 to barely 0.4 percent of GDP today. There would be nothing wrong or worrisome about these numbers if peace were breaking out around the world. But with ISIS and al-Qaida waging war and sowing terror, with China building up its arsenal and claiming the territories of its neighbors, with Russia annexing Crimea and projecting military power into the Middle East, with Iran testing missiles and North Korea detonating nukes, we know the very opposite is true. Diminished defense spending has led to a third factor that’s blunting America’s military-technology edge: America’s defense industrial base is draining away. Even before the bipartisan gamble known as sequestration began to take its toll, then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen warned in 2011, “I think the likelihood that if you make a decision which ends a certain part of our industrial base, it doesn’t come back ... People go away, skills go away.” Take, as an example, the plight of the F-22 Raptor, the most sophisticated warplane in America’s arsenal. The F-22 is so advanced that Air Force planners say it takes eight of the newer F-35s to do what two F-22s can do. The Pentagon’s original goal was 749 Raptors, but scaled that back to 381 aircraft, before shutting down the F-22 program at just 187 aircraft in 2009. Congress now wants the Air Force to explore restarting the F-22 assembly line and building 194 more Raptors. As Defense News reports, congressional officials cite “growing threats to U.S. air superiority as a result of adversaries closing the technology gap.” However, building just 75 more Raptors would cost $17 billion, owing largely to the fact that the personnel, tooling and facilities needed to resurrect the Raptor are gone. For numerous reasons – cost, efficiency, the trend toward outsourcing – today’s defense industrial base “relies on supply chains that are increasingly complex and globalized,” retired Army Gen. John Adams explains. “Too often, these supply chains create vulnerabilities and are subject to manipulation by strategic competitors.” As an example, he notes that the United States relies on a Chinese company to manufacture a key chemical used in the propellant for Hellfire missiles. In fact, Reuters reports that the Pentagon “repeatedly waived laws banning Chinese-built components on U.S. weapons in order to keep the $392-billion Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter program on track in 2012 and 2013.” With sequestration hacking away at the amount the nation is investing in defense, the five largest U.S. defense firms have cut 14 percent of their workforce since 2008, according to a Politico analysis. However, the U.S. defense industrial base was disappearing long before sequestration. “From 1990 to 2000, both the number of major surface combatant shipbuilders and the number of fixed-wing aircraft developers fell from eight to three; the number of tactical missile producers fell from 13 to three; and the number of tracked-combat vehicle developers fell from three to two,” a Heritage Foundation report explains. Reviving the defense industrial base isn’t primarily about saving U.S. jobs or even protecting U.S. military assets from foreign mischief – important as those priorities are. Ultimately, it’s about winning or losing wars. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments concludes, “The United States’ ability to mobilize key parts of its own defense industrial base, particularly those concerned with volume production of long-range precision-guided munitions, will likely be a critical factor in its success or failure in the conflict.” Changing the game Even so, all the news on the military-technology front is not bad. America’s unmanned systems, missile defenses and cyberwar capabilities are on the cutting edge. For instance, Ralph Langner, an expert in industrial computer systems, has likened the Stuxnet computer worm, which the United States deployed to target Iran’s nuclear program, to “the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield.” The Navy is fine-tuning an otherworldly electromagnetic rail gun that can hit targets 100 miles downrange at speeds exceeding 5,000 mph. Air Force leaders predict laser weapons will be grafted onto AC-130s, MQ-1 drones, F-22s and F-35s by 2020, Military Times reports. “This is a reality,” Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, says. The technology is coming “very soon,” according to Carlisle, who predicts the addition of laser weapons will “change the game.” The Air Force plans to turn old B-52s into unmanned “arsenal planes” that, when networked with new F-22s, F-35s and B-21s, will serve as “airborne magazines,” thus greatly expanding the striking power of smaller airframes. The Pentagon is testing “micro-drones that can be launched from the flare dispensers of moving F-16s and F/A-18 fighter jets,” The Washington Post reports. Once dispersed, the micro-drones can attack independent targets, swarm a target or even lie in wait for a target. U.S. industry is developing the Prompt Global Strike missile system capable of delivering a hypersonic kill vehicle “anywhere on Earth in as little as an hour,” the Congressional Research Service reports. Perhaps Washington is ready to make the investments necessary to develop and deploy these and other next-generation military technologies, in order to defend America deep into the 21st century. For example, there is bipartisan support in Congress to end sequestration. Noting that “it takes 22 years on average to field a major new weapons system,” the president pledges to build a military that can “deter, avoid and prevent conflict through our unquestioned military strength” and wants to make the United States “the world’s dominant technological powerhouse of the 21st century.” Toward that end, Trump issued an executive order directing the Pentagon “to rebuild the U.S. Armed Forces,” determine funding levels “necessary to improve readiness conditions and address risks to national security,” and identify any issues with “insufficient maintenance, delays in acquiring parts, access to training ranges, combatant command operational demands, funding needed for consumables ... manpower shortfalls, depot maintenance capacity, and time needed to plan, coordinate, and execute readiness and training activities.” Timeless It’s well known that President George Washington advocated military preparedness to deter America’s enemies and preserve America’s independence. “There is nothing so likely to produce peace,” he counseled, “as to be well prepared to meet an enemy.” Less well known is something Washington said about maintaining a strong defense industry: “A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined,” he declared. “Their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent on others for essential, particularly for military, supplies.” It’s time, again, to heed Washington’s timeless counsel. By Alan W. Dowd