Roll Call: The News Source of Capitol Hill Since 1955
July 23, 2014

Climate Change Impacts the Pentagon

“All Pentagon operations in the U.S. and abroad are threatened by climate change, according to a Defense Department official,” The Hill reports.

Said Daniel Chiu, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for strategy and force development: “The effects of the changing climate affect the full range of Department activities, including plans, operations, training, infrastructure, acquisition, and longer-term investments. By taking a proactive, flexible approach to assessment, analysis, and adaptation, the Department can keep pace with the impacts of changing climate patterns, minimize effects on the Department, and continue to protect our national security interests.”

“Given the perceived threats, Chiu said climate change is playing a key role in international efforts.”

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Military Suicides Declined Slightly in 2013

“Suicides in the military dropped by 6 percent last year, a decline that Pentagon officials hope signals a reversal in a tragic trend — but that some advocates say does not reflect the true scope of the issue in the military and veterans’ community,” the Air Force Times reports.

“According to data published Tuesday by the Defense Department, 479 service members — 259 active-duty troops, 87 Reserve members and 133 National Guard members — died by suicide in 2013, down from 319 active-duty members and 203 non-activated Reserve and Guard members in 2012.”

“The rate per 100,000 — a measure used to compare incidence across the services and the civilian population — also dropped for the active-duty force, from 22.7 to 18.7.”

Confirmation Is the Easy Part for VA Nominee

“The easiest part about the job of the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs may be getting it,” Defense One reports.

“The Senate Veterans Affairs committee on Tuesday gave unanimous support to former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald to serve as VA secretary, green lighting President Barack Obama’s nominee, who is expected to be confirmed before Congress leaves for its August recess next week.”

“But more than 50 days since former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in the wake of a still-growing scandal over wait times at VA health facilities, McDonald’s confirmation is just one, albeit significant, step forward for the Sisyphean effort he is set to soon lead: fixing a VA broken in both spirit and function.”

Our Path from the Moon to Mars

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NASA photo

Just 66 years after America achieved first flight at Kitty Hawk, a new generation of pioneers landed a man on the Moon, fulfilling NASA’s promise to be first to plant its flag on extra-terrestrial terrain. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin launched on a Saturn V from Earth July 16, 1969 and Armstrong took that first step onto the lunar surface on July 20.

“Many of us vividly remember sitting with family and friends watching history play out in grainy black and white television 45 years ago when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon’s surface,” said John Elbon, Boeing Space Exploration vice president and general manager. “That moment impacted a lot of lives and set young people around the world on the path toward careers in science and engineering. Those space enthusiasts in turn launched decades of incredible technological advancements.”

Later generations were engaged by the Space Shuttle program, as it launched again and again to transport crew and cargo to build the world’s first on-orbit space station, realizing NASA’s dream of off-planet habitation to foster new discoveries in science, medicine and technology.

“Future scientists, engineers and researchers are looking to us to achieve the next great accomplishments in space exploration that will inspire them to dream and work for a role in tomorrow’s space adventure beyond Earth and on to Mars,” said Elbon. “Our teams are making history, giving shape to NASA’s vision for near Earth and deep space exploration. The work we are doing today is opening doors all around the world where new generations are hoping for their own Apollo 11 moment.”

NASA today is maintaining the International Space Station, building a Commercial Space Transportation System to resupply the ISS and transport crew, while also building Space Launch System (SLS). In labs all over the country, teams are working on a number of advancements in propulsion, materials, and new capabilities to enable deep space exploration.

It may be the journey that matters, but we’ll all remember the moment when we take that first step onto Mars terrain.

Iraqi Ambassador Calls on U.S. to Begin Airstrikes in Iraq

Defense News reports that “the Iraqi ambassador to the United States explicitly called for ramped up American military involvement in his country on Monday, asking the United States to launch air strikes against positions being held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Sunni extremist group that has gained control over swaths of northern and western Iraq.”

“H.E. Lukman Faily told an audience at an Atlantic Council event in Washington that for the US and Iraq ‘to conduct counterterrorism operations in urban areas occupied by ISIL, we need precision US air attacks,’ and that ‘the US should offer air support targeting terrorist camps and supply convoys in remote areas.’”

“American air strikes would also “protect Iraq’s borders against further terrorist influx” the ambassador said, since key elements of ISIL have flowed across the porous Iraq/Syria border in the past several months, giving the group freedom of movement across the Sunni-dominated western Iraq and eastern Syria.”

Medal of Honor Award Given

Stars and Stripes reports that “as the soldiers around him were killed one by one, a young paratrooper ended up fighting solo to hold a key piece of high ground that overlooked a U.S. base in danger of being overrun by a larger Taliban force.”

“Serious wounds didn’t stop former Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts from hurling a steady flow of grenades and machinegun fire at insurgents, holding them at bay until the tide of battle shifted in one of the costliest engagements of the war in Afghanistan.”

“For his fighting prowess and dedication to protecting his buddies, Pitts, now 28 and living in Nashua, N.H., on Monday became the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Afghan War during a White House ceremony.”

China Presses for Closer Ties With U.S. Military

The Wall St. Journal reports that “China is seeking greater access to U.S. aircraft carriers and guidance on how to operate its own first carrier, the Liaoning, testing the limits of a newly cooperative military relationship the two sides have tried to cultivate in the past year.”

“The latest Chinese request came last week when U.S. Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, visited China to explore new areas of cooperation, despite recent maritime tensions and the presence of an uninvited Chinese spy ship at naval drills off Hawaii.”

Export-Import Bank Matters to Economic and National Security

The U.S. has a bank that helps keep a level playing field for businesses selling goods on the global market. It’s a bank where 90 percent of the transactions last year benefitted small American businesses. Since 2008, it has supported $107 billion of U.S. exports and more than 1 million jobs across all 50 states. It also covers all of its costs through the fees it charges its foreign customers, and it has put a billion dollars back into the U.S. Treasury in each of the past two years. The bank is the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and it could close its doors if Congress does not reauthorize its activities by Sept. 30.

The bank has been around for 80 years and underwrites loans to foreign entities to buy U.S. products. Fifty-nine other countries have similar banks to support their exports. Without Ex-Im, American businesses would lose sales to foreign competitors, and American workers would lose their jobs.

America must stay engaged, and competitive, in global markets. Ex-Im helps America succeed in tough global competitions. It helps create and sustain U.S. jobs, generate economic growth, and provide the revenue needed to create innovative new American products. It also helps America build and strengthen its ties to other nations. All of these are critical elements to our nation’s future prosperity and national security. We cannot be strong if our economy is not strong. Congress needs to help keep American businesses in the game. It needs to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank.

Learn more about how the Ex-Im bank works and why it’s vital to America’s economy:

Injured Vets Program in Danger

“A program that allows veterans with traumatic brain injuries to receive treatment in assisted living facilities is in danger of closing down,” The Hill reports.

“With only two weeks to go before the August recess, Congress has yet to take action on legislation that would renew the pilot program before it expires on Sept. 30. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) proposed legislation this week that would prolong the treatment option for another three years at a cost of $46 million.”

“But the treatment program is at risk being lost in the shuffle, with lawmakers in both chambers of Congress preoccupied with trying to reach an agreement on overhauling the troubled veterans healthcare system. Those talks are hitting the wall over questions about whether the cost of overhauling the Veterans Affairs (VA) clinics should be paid for through other changes to the budget.”

Senator Revives Commercial Airliner Anti-Missile Defense Idea

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) told the Washington Post that, in the aftermath of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 disaster and with shoulder-fired missiles proliferating in places like Libya in Iraq, he would press the Federal Aviation Administration to install anti-missile defenses on commercial airliners.

Roll Call: “It probably won’t be an easy sell. Right after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the idea had some real momentum. But it eventually suffered a long, slow death over cost, reliability and need.”

“The focus back then was on shoulder-fired missiles, known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems or the unfortunate acronym of MANPADS. Evidence points to MH17 being shot down by a more advanced missile system.”

Weekend Viewing: Five Videos from Geopolitical Experts

Leading Authorities, a speakers bureau, posts links to geopolitical speakers who “are experts at discussing today’s news and most complex situations. From ISIS changing the landscape in the Middle East, to increased Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, they explain what it means for American people and America’s interests and how it impacts business throughout the world.”

  • “Ret. Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA, recently said, ‘Iraq as we know it is gone.’ Hayden dissects political situations in hot spots around the world, analyzing the tumultuous global environment.”
  • “Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA, told Charlie Rose that ISIS is ‘the most serious set of circumstances in the Middle East’ since 1973. See his insights in a gripping presentation on geopolitics.”
  • “Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who recently said, ‘It’s very likely that [Iraq’s] national boundaries will change pretty significantly,’ is a dynamic, powerful speaker, often impressing audiences with field-tested leadership lessons.”
  • “John Allen, retired four-star general and the longest-serving leader of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, shared his recent thoughts on the unfolding situation in Iraq: ‘We must strike them with a hard blow.’ Watch Allen explain what leaders must do to be successful in facing today’s challenges.”
  • “Former DEVGRU commander retired U.S. Navy Admiral Eric Olson discusses the megatrends pressuring world politics, economies, and social systems, and what America’s role is moving forward.”

Putting the ‘Unmanned’ in Unmanned Little Bird

Autopilot is a common feature on most major civilian and military fixed-wing airplanes, but it’s very rare to find on vertical lift aircraft. Thanks to a kit Boeing is developing for the Unmanned Little Bird, hundreds of rotorcraft could eventually be capable of flying unmanned.

Watch the video to see the Unmanned Little Bird in action:

Pentagon Plans Combat Training for Syrian Rebels

The Pentagon has drawn up plans to train a small group of Syrian rebels opposed to the regime of President Bashar Assad in an effort to influence the bloody civil war that has engulfed the country since 2011, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Time: “Citing anonymous sources, the Journal reported that defense officials told key congressional committees at closed-door briefings last week that preliminary military estimates call for training a 2,300-man force over an 18-month period.”

“The fighters would be vetted to ensure they are ideological moderates and not Islamic extremists, who have flocked to the country to fight against Assad’s Shi’ite-aligned forces. The training would not begin until next year and would require congressional approval.”

Pentagon Defends $60 Billion Wartime Request

“Pentagon officials defended their request for $60 billion in war funds before the House Budget Committee on Thursday as lawmakers accused them of trying to avoid budget caps and congressional scrutiny,” The Hill reports.

“The Pentagon is requesting the money for its fiscal 2015 wartime budget, the overseas contingency operations fund (OCO), but only $11 billion of the total would go toward U.S. operations in Afghanistan, which are being wound down.”

“Lawmakers have accused the administration of seeking a “slush fund” to shift non-war expenses from the base budget into the wartime account. But Defense officials said that most of the money — $53.7 billion — would go to operations outside of Afghanistan but in support of the mission in the region.”

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