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Welcome, everyone here today, our first hearing and, in my opinion, the best hearing. I've always thought we learn more from this particular gathering of our warriors than anything we do in this committee. I -- I wanted to say hello and welcome to my good friend, Ms. Wasserman Schultz. She and I have worked well together.
We will continue to work well together for the men and women of our Armed Forces. We are very proud to have this position to do it. But you are the guys that are -- and gals that are closest to your -- your -- your people. That's why I think this is a great hearing. I loved -- I love to have this hearing because we can learn about the ordinary warrior and their needs from you.
And so, thank you for being here. I consider you very important. Come on in. We got -- we got a member out there. Let him in. Come on in, Mr. Cuellar. We got room for you. We forgive you. And to start off with what happened to my face, I'm not going to just -- you make up whatever story you want, but for today it'll be I've been fighting for more money for our men and women of the military.
[Laughter] And -- and that's good enough. That's good enough. All right. So, welcome. We -- we want to talk to you about the quality of life of our enlisted personnel, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Guardians. You -- you know the answers. We need to hear the answers. We have five witnesses today at our table who represent the highest in the enlisted leadership of our respective branches.
And for the first time since 2019, we've been able to gather all together again. So, this is -- this is really important. I've been on this sub -- subcommittee now -- well, since I think, '04, and this has always been where we learn the nuts and bolts, what we need to talk about. So, I'm looking forward to it greatly.
We want to talk facilities, we want to talk readiness, we want to talk quality of life. We -- we -- we have the job of investing in -- in infrastructure to bolster our military's ability to train and fight, also ensuring our service members and their families are taken care of at home every day. Now -- and my colleague and good friend, Ms. Wasserman Schultz, she and I agree on 90 percent of the things we do -- do in this committee, and I'm going to yield to her for her comments.
DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Congratulations.
I look forward to continuing our partnership, as you mentioned. I always brag about how you and I are nearly interchangeable when it comes to the issues that that -- that come before us on the MilCon-VA subcommittee. And -- and I just am really excited to -- to continue our partnership. You know, I'll also just be a little bit parochial and emphasize that Florida on this sub is in the house.
Mr. -- Mr. Rutherford, now Mr. Franklin, welcome to the committee. It's good to have you, so three Floridians, just saying. If the bill ends up coming out disproportionately favoring our state or our region, Mr. -- Mr. Bishop, then -- then all the better. You know, only kind of kidding.
Well, we can't protect these two.
Yeah. Yeah, you can. You can, most definitely. So --
And -- and our neighbor to the north, Ms. Bice, is from Oklahoma.
Absolutely. So, welcome to all the new members. You'll -- you'll -- you'll really enjoy being on this sub. We really are like a little family of -- of friends. I want to thank all five witnesses for joining us this morning to testify on the crucial topics that are affecting the quality of life not just for our service members but for their families as well.
This hearing is really always a great opportunity to identify areas where we can do more to help those who protect us and defend our nation. It's imperative that we prioritize their well-being and guarantee their optimal readiness. The witnesses before us are well positioned to convey the views and needs of our enlisted men and women as you always so ably do. Over the last several years, this subcommittee has sent a strong message with the overall funding levels that we've provided that go above and beyond the levels requested by the department in budget requests.
Specifically, we've made strong -- and that includes both party's administrations. Specifically, we've made strong investments to target quality of life issues most important to our service members. We've targeted funding to increase the number of child development centers to chip away at the backlog of families waiting to get their children into child care facilities.
No service member can focus on their job if they're worrying about how their children are being taken care of when they're away. For the first time last year, we included an additional $30 million to provide much needed more robust oversight over the housing portfolio. It's despicable for service members and their families to be subject to deplorable housing conditions, and we will not rest until this housing crisis is solved.
We continue to prioritize the clean up of PFAS as more and more evidence comes to light of the serious long term side effects of PFAS chemicals. We need quick and efficient remediation, and I'm proud that our 2023 bill included an additional $200 million for PFAS identification, mitigation, and cleanup at closed military locations under our BRAC account.
We must continue to build on this and protect our service members. Lastly, the issue of sexual assault in the military remains dire, and the problem only seems to be getting worse. According to the Department of Defense's annual Sexual Assault and Prevention Report released in September, sexual assault rates are up. And this is not just attributed to an increase in reporting.
In fact, reporting is down, and trust in the military to protect victims is low. There has been significant focus on this year-over-year, and yet no progress is being made. In fact, we seem to be losing ground. I cannot stress enough the importance of protecting our women and men from sexual assault and harassment, and I want to hear about necessary policy and cultural changes to reverse the prevalence of sexual assault in the military.
These issues, among others that we'll get into during our questioning, directly affect the recruitment and retention of our service members. I remember at a hearing that we had, I believe it was last year, and we heard from an enlisted -- an enlisted man who testified virtually that he had planned to make serving in the military his career choice.
And if you remember, Judge Carter, he said to us, in -- about a year in, that he was seriously rethinking that because of the deplorable housing conditions in which his family was living. I mean, that is not a -- a retention magnet, to say -- to say the least. If we want to build the -- the force of the future, we must take care of our servicemen and women while they are in the military and after they leave.
While we don't yet have the president's budget, I'm hopeful it will include a strong request for military construction funding that addresses many of the quality of life issues we will discuss today and that it will not follow the historic pattern among presidents of both parties of underfunding military infrastructure.
What concerns me is Speaker McCarthy's reported proposal to limit discretionary spending levels to fiscal year 2022 levels. This could have disastrous effects across our government, including on military construction, and specifically on efforts to fund additional projects related to quality of life. At that funding level, the strides we've taken to provide more quality, safe housing for our troops and their families would be in danger.
At that funding level, the committee would have to make hard choices between mission critical projects and those that improve the quality of life for our troops. At that funding level, crucial construction projects would stretch further into the future, affecting mission readiness. We need to continue to build on the success of the prior fiscal years to continue to invest in military construction and the members of our armed services.
We cannot take a giant leap backwards. So, the message that that would send to our enlisted men and women would be terrible. So, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today to discuss what more is needed not only through funding, but also through policy and leadership to improve the lives of our service members and their families.
Thank you all for joining us today. Thank you for your service. And Sergeant Major, really congratulations on your impending retirement. It's really been an honor and a pleasure to work with you. Thank you so much.
Thank you very much. And let me introduce who we've got here with us today. Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, who is about to retire pretty quickly and has done a heck of a good job. And we appreciate what you've done and wish you luck in your retirement. Chief Master -- Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea, he is from Lubbock, Texas.
I went to school in Lubbock, Texas, and I -- I love to tell this story. A guy had a card -- cartoon in the local paper. It showed a guy walking out through -- remember, this was back in the '60s and early seven -- early '50s, actually, late '50s. Guy walks out with a shovel and starts digging. Next frame of this cartoon says what are you doing?
He said I'm digging a bomb shelter. In your third cartoon, you see the guy two-thirds of the way down pitching dirt out, and the guy says who'd bomb Lubbock? In the fourth frame, he's filling the hole back up. If you know Lubbock, you know what I mean. But we're -- we're happy to have you here. Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black, he's been in this post since the -- since -- as of the 19th as the Marine Corps -- 19th of July 2019; Master Sergeant -- mast -- Master -- Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, she's been in this role -- her current role since August of 2020. Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force Roger Towberman; Chief Master Sergeant Towberman became the first Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force in April 2020. While he's testified before this committee in the past when he had the -- when we had this hearing 2020 -- in 2019, we didn't have a space force.
So, we're glad to have you here and we're proud to have your Space Force operational, because you're going to have a -- a tough part of the fight when the fight starts, if it does, praise God. Let's hope it doesn't. So, with that, I'm gonna tell you that we -- you've each submitted a written document, which you don't have to review other than try to keep it to -- you know, we're not going to hit you in the head if you -- like me, if you -- if you go past five, five minutes, but we'd appreciate it you'd try to review it within five minutes and then give us some time to ask questions.
So, I -- I think we'll start with Sergeant Major Grinston.
Chairman -- Chairman Carter, Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz, distinguished members of this subcommittee, thank you for the invitation to speak today on behalf of the soldiers, their families, and the Army civilians who make up our all volunteer force. Thank you for all the work you have done to support your Army.
The $1.5 billion in Army military construction funding, which provided more than $574 million for family housing and $154 million for barracks and $99 million for child development centers, will directly improve soldier and family quality of life. And thank you to my fellow senior enlisted advisers. I talk a lot about my squad and having more than one squad, and I'm proud to be a part of this squad with you today.
I'd like to take a moment up front to tell you a little bit about your Army and what they have done in the past year. Right now, more than 23,000 soldiers are supporting combat operations in places like Africa, Iraq, and Syria, not just training and advising combat. What started as a no notice deployment for the 82nd Airborne Division to Europe last year now includes 17,000 additional troops to the region.
The 1st Armored Brigade combat team of the 3rd Infantry Division had just returned from a rotation in Korea when they deployed to Europe. Never before have I seen an armored brigade combat team that's sent on a no notice deployment. Not only did they go, but seven days later they were shooting gunnery in Germany.
America's soldiers are lethal, effective, and ready to surge when called upon in times of crisis. Standing with every one of these soldiers is a family enduring the stress of a loved one away from home or prepared to leave at a moment's notice. Their sacrifice is not unnoticed. Along with the sacrifices of our services, no soldier, airman, guardian, sailor, Marine, or Coast Guardsmen should also have to experience economic or food insecurity, period.
I welcome a hard review of military pay, beginning with our junior enlisted service members. More than that, we've got to continue providing the resources and education to help our soldiers manage their finances the right way. Recruiting and retaining the best talent begins with providing every American an opportunity to make a difference.
Young Americans want to be a part of something larger than themselves. Polling shows propensity to serve in the military at 9 percent, the lowest in 15 years. Of that 9 percent, the qualification rate for military service among 17 to 24 year olds has decreased from 29 percent to 23 percent. This is not just an Army problem.
It's not just a military problem. If we cannot field an army able to accomplish the missions I mentioned at the beginning, that is an American problem. We are your Army, and ensuring we have the people to protect this nation is an absolute security imperative. We need a national call to public service. But unless we have full support of this committee to take care of them, that call only goes so far.
This means timely, adequate, predictable, and sustained funding to invest in barracks, dining facilities, and child development centers. It means selecting, training, educating, and promoting the best leaders at every echelon. It means investments to prevent harmful behaviors, which result in things like suicide, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.
Prevention is a personal mission of mine, and I've been very clear the goal is zero suicides and zero sexual assaults. The work of leaders across the Army has brought us one step closer to that goal. Last year, we saw 69 fewer suicides than the year before. However, one suicide is too many. We also saw a reduction in sexual assaults and sexual harassment reporting.
But again, one sexual assault or sex harassment is too many. I am concerned with the gap existing between the prevalence data and the number of reports. We are currently working with OSD to receive and collect the prevalence data in a more timely manner, and I continue to challenge the Army to find ways to get something more recent than three years ago so we can better inform prevention strategies.
There is much work to do, and I speak for everyone on this panel when I say I am committed to do it. I'm often told thank you for your service. And I -- as I reflect on 36 years of service in uniform, five of them in combat, I would do it all again because I believe the nation is worth it, our soldiers are worth it, and each of you are worth it. Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
I look forward to our conversation.
Thank you, Master Sergeant -- or Sergeant Major. Now -- now Master Sergeant Petty Honea, you're up.
Thank you, sir. Chairman Carter, Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz, and distinguished members of the subcommittee, I am grateful for the opportunity to appear before you to discuss the quality of life of our sailors and their families. During my tenure, I want to do all that I can with -- inside my sphere of influence to improve the quality of naval service and remove barriers that impact the readiness so that we can remain a dominant naval force to deter conflict, keep the sea lanes open and free, and when called upon, decisively win our nation's wars.
In an era of strategic competition, if we are to maintain, train, and equip a combat critical force, we owe our sailors and their families stability in their pay, access to timely health care and services, as well as opportunities to develop personally and professionally. Their individual success and the Navy's collective mission accomplishment rely on our ability to provide an environment that promotes inclusiveness and a sense of value to the team that ensures retaining the talent our nation requires.
In the six months of being MCPON, I have traveled to our fleet concentrated areas to hear from our sailors about their concerns. Access to adequate medical services and timely care is one of the top concerns. In places like the Pacific nor -- Northwest, there are two -- two naval hospitals that have been downgraded, requiring sailors and families to drive an hour or more to seek military medicine and specialized care.
Obtaining access to care isn't just a problem for our service members, though. It also includes our DOD civilians and their families, who are an integral component to our total naval force. In some of our overseas locations, they face medical care challenges because they are unable to access military medical treatment facilities.
Our DOD civilians are part of our total military family and work directly alongside our military teams. As it stands, we will begin losing employees that are mission critical and are going to be challenged to stay on their missions in support. To prepare our sailors for combat, we must also ensure each member of our team is resilient.
Mental health is a war fighting readiness necessity, and we are facing significant mental health challenges. The emphasis on the critical need for mental health support and resources remains prominent in our fleet. TRICARE has partnered with telehealth programs, however, active duty members must still make an appointment with their primary care provider for a referral.
This increases the wait time and therefore missing the intent of the more accessible health care. I ask for your continued support in these programs. If our team is to remain the dominant naval force, we must continue focusing on the factors that influence our recruiting and retention efforts, assessing situations that impact our all volunteer force's propensity to serve and build a stronger national call to service.
This year's pay increases were a historical milestone for our military compensation package, and we are all very grateful. However, our sailors are still facing challenges to meet basic needs in their local economies. Affordable housing, food costs, and finding adequate childcare remain an enormous stressor within our high cost of living fleet concentrated areas.
If we want to retain a -- professional and qualified service members and give tangible incentives to sustain a military career, I ask that Congress continue to look at pay increases and retention bonuses to ensure our force is appropriately compensated. We are asking men and women to be the best and most skilled warfighters to defend our nation, and risk of losing these talented sailors will have dire consequences on our future fighting force.
In addition to medical care and pay compensation, the United States Naval Community College reinforces our warfighting advantage, enhances operational readiness by providing world class naval relevant education to a globally deployed force. This program has partnered with colleges throughout the United States to provide a degree and professional certificate options.
The impact -- this empowers our enlisted force to succeed in complex and uncertain situations that sailors and Marines and Coast Guardsmen will find themselves in future conflict, and serves as a force multiplier that will be the advantage over our adversaries. I am honored to be here today to appear before you on behalf of our 390,000 sailors, their families, and our civilians deployed across the globe.
I am committed to removing barriers from service that prevent them from having a safe and secure place to live and to work in executing their oath of enlistment. Military service is one of the hardest things our sailor -- sailors, Marines, soldiers, airmen and Guardians will ever be asked to do. And with your continued support to our Navy and our families, you enable us to remain ready for any situation.
I thank you for your time, and I look forward to your questions.
Thank you. Sergeant Major Black?
Chairman Carter, Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz, and this -- distinguished members of this committee, I'm honored to speak to you today on behalf of your United States Marines. You have never given up on the care and attention to our Marines and our families, and I'm grateful. Thank you for your time and allowing me to provide you with the state of your Marine Corps.
Bottom line up front, your Marines are ready to fight. Through all the challenges that we've faced, we've remained ready. We will always remain ready to fight and win, and will never give up that -- give that up. The Marine Corps continues to modernize to meet current and future threats and respond to crisis, provide deterrence, and win in conflicts.
For this, we must thank our people, our Marines, who are our greatest strategic advantage in all we do. The technological enhancements of the paradigm of how we fight has evolved to better prepare us for an uncertain future, but a certain foe. Those who may choose to agitate us, our friends, or the global rule of law need to understand that this Congress already knows that the United States military, your Marines in particular, are stronger, faster, smarter and trusted.
Year after year, generation after generation, the Marine Corps has remained the few and the proud. Our brand has not changed, nor has our warrior spirit. The Marine Corps warfighting ethos is woven into how we recruit, retain, and train our women and men, giving our leaders a beacon to follow and a reputation to uphold.
We will never let this nation down when we have the stand up people who choose a place among the few. Today we do, and they are ready. During the past four years of my life at the twilight of my career, I've had the privilege to have access to the entire Marine Corps, to our entire force. I've toured buildings, flight lines, hangars and ships, and of course the barracks.
It is clear to me that we must increase our investment in the quality of life of our Marines and all service members. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the all volunteer force, the American people know that the service -- that service is not given. In our society, that service is recruited, and we must increase the propensity, the desire to serve our nation.
We need to make bigger strides in valuing our people. Many of our barracks are more than 30 years old and in need of repair and renovations. And I thank this committee for your attention and support in this endeavor. Along with the quality at home, our Marines and families require quality care. The Defense Health Agency has undertaken the largest transformation in the history of military health systems.
Adequate health care for our families is the minimum standard and vital to the all volunteer force. To care for our families and those who support our service adjacent in our ranks is how we'd like to -- to exceed that minimum. We're after career longevity and healthy homes, and that comes with proper and persistent health care of our people.
We must improve our current health system. Furthermore, we're ensuring and integrating a comprehensive prevention system that enhances the perseverance of every Marine by aligning health crisis prevention resources. This is a focus on our people. With the continued support from this committee and the resources requested, we will better prepare our force to persevere in the face of adversity and win battles both in combat and in life.
Suicide and harmful behaviors remain Corps wide concerns that have lasting negative effects on Marines and their families, the Marine Corps, and our communities. Access to mental health providers, which are in dire shortage across our nation and within our services, and resources remain paramount and something with which we remain very concerned.
Continuing to ensure adequate mental health care access is not just limited to the Marine Corps or Department of Defense. As I mentioned previously, this is a nationwide concern. Since 2011, the Marine Corps suicide rate is generally comparable to the US population. However, this remains too high and is unacceptable.
We train our Marines to find the signs associated with depression, harmful behaviors, and to preserve the life and well-being of our sisters and brothers. I'd like to thank this committee for your continuing actions and your continued support in our prevention programs and the effects they deliver in human performance.
Sometimes the toughest part of the mental health challenge is being able to know and understand that something isn't right. I'm proud to see that our leaders are sharing their stories more, opening doors of conversations about perseverance and closing the doors on the stigma associated with help seeking behaviors.
I'm thankful for these stories from Marines who continue to lead in the ranks today, who continue to fight and win, and who continue to exemplify Semper Fidelis, meaning always faithful. Knowing the Marines and looking out for their welfare as one of the 11 Marine Corps leadership principles. These principles are the bedrock of the way we train and operate and live daily.
Marines serve with honor, courage, and commitment, and we will continue to do so with respect for human life. The lifeblood of our unit cohesion and esprit de corps respect for one another. Your Marine Corps' strategic advantage against any adversary, as I've mentioned, is our people. And we're closely knit as a team.
We prevail. When harmful and destructive behaviors are present amongst our ranks, we departure from that cohesiveness. All Marines, from our most senior leaders to our newest entry level graduates, know and understand this -- the importance of a healthy workplace and healthy practices away from duty. We remain continued to -- we remain committed to the prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault and promoting trust within the chain of command.
Presently, prior service reports at 16 percent of the Marine Corps annual total. We're proud of all who stepped forward after they enter our service and seek the support. A healthier person is a stronger warfighter. The Marine Corps will continue to foster a culture of accountability and trust as we provide and support and care for those who enter our Corps and with their experience that truly describes the character of your Marines.
We are resolute in this endeavor to remove sexual assault and harassment and other behaviors from our ranks that diminish our warfighting capabilities. Marines do not tolerate sexual assault, sexual harassment, or any behaviors or attitudes that lead to this. I'd like to thank this committee for highlighting and continuing to highlight and serving your service members in taking care of this issue.
The topic of child care has come up, and we will address this through further questioning. We are 77 percent manned or unmanned -- or manned and meet our requirements. However, our biggest challenge is the hiring of child care professionals and being able to pay them an adequate wage to meet the comparative assessments throughout the civilian sector.
We must continue to pay our enlisted service members the highest rates possible for service they provide in protection of our nation. I look forward to continuing conversations in this is well. Today, as always, we have more than 30,000 Marines who are forward deployed and forward stationed in 40 nations across the world.
We have a detachment of Marines standing a watch at every embassy and consulate around the globe. Your Marines are currently conducting 23 real war operations, three amphibious operations, eight large scale exercises, and seven theater security cooperation engagements. And we recently reactivated Camp Blaz, a strategic hub in Guam to base 5,000 additional Marines.
Lastly, I'd like to thank this committee for your support in modernizing the force in accordance with the commandant's force design. Trust in the leadership and warfighting ethos of the Marine Corps has encouraged more Marines to stay in our Corps, and due to the modernization and talent management training and education and development of the operational concepts meant to prepare the Marines today for the current and future needs of the nation.
Thank you very much for the opportunity this afternoon -- or this morning to speak with you. Thank you.
Chief Master Sergeant Bass?
Yes. Good morning. Good morning, Chairman Carter, Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz, and distinguished members of this subcommittee. Thank you for your continued interest and support in the quality of life of the men and women who serve our great nation. I am honored for this opportunity to join my brothers in arms sitting here with me today to speak with you specifically on the issues impacting your Air Force and the lives of our airmen and their families.
Right now, as we speak, 15,564 airmen are deployed across the globe conducting operations to defend our homeland, to build strong alliances and partnerships, and ensure the rules based international order remains unchallenged. We find ourselves at a critical point in the trajectory of our great nation. For the first time in modern history, we are facing challenges from two strategic competitors, China and Russia.
While China may be our most significant pacing challenge, we cannot ignore the acute threat that Russia also plays. I am here to tell you today that more than any platform, any weapons system, or any program, it is our airmen, it is all of our service members, who are and will always be our most competitive advantage that we have.
As the chief master sergeant of the Air Force, I've been able to meet and dialog with airmen and families during my travels, hear their stories, hear their concerns, and the unique challenges that they face as members of our team. I am honored to be their voice as they continue to answer our nation's call without hesitation and without fail.
Therefore, it falls on us to ensure that the airmen of today have the resources required to continue to serve in the highest trained, best equipped, and best led Air Force this world has ever seen. In order to be the Air Force our nation needs, we must prioritize both the quality of life and the quality of service of our airmen and their families.
The over 689,000 total force airmen that I represent have afforded me a unique perspective on the direction that our Air Force needs to go. Over the past year, I've seen the examples of our airmen working extremely hard to get after the operational imperatives and accelerate the change that our Air Force needs to maintain our dominance, even while China attempts to close that gap.
They understand that rapidly evolving challenges, new domains and warfare, and near-peer competitors will define future state operations. We must continue to support them as they faithfully support and defend this nation. How we recruit, train, develop, compensate, retain, care for, and transition our airmen are key to success and they are key to readiness.
We have a strong strategy that will move us in the right direction, and we will need your assistance to help get us there. As we continue to move forward and focus on the Air Force of 2030 and beyond, there is much to be done. We will continue to develop the airmen that we need and create an environment where every single one of them can thrive and be their very best.
We need our airmen to remain focused and committed to defending the homeland. And as you mentioned, we can't have them distracted by whether or not they can find quality and affordable housing, spouse employment opportunities, or any other challenges such as health care, child care, inflation, and food insecurity.
We also can't have a serious discussion about the quality of life of our service members without addressing the need to take a holistic look at military pay and compensation. The scope of responsibility of our enlisted force has never been greater. However, we will be challenged in recruiting, we will be challenged in retaining the talent we need, if we are not able to appropriately compensate them.
For 50 years, every service member has willingly raised their right hand and accepted a life of service to this nation. We must ensure that the care -- care and welfare for them and their family remains our undisputed priority. These things are integral to who we are and imperative to our future success.
Taking these issues on demonstrates our commitment to our service members and their families, and ultimately builds great trust in this institution. As we work with each of you, our willing partners, in developing actionable solutions to build that trust and care for our airmen and our families, we cannot turn a blind eye to the infrastructure and the facilities which are fundamentally linked to the quality of service.
Thank you so much for your continued focus and attention on our installations. They are not only key components of the warfighting mission, but they are where all of us calls home. Years of competing priorities and fiscal constraints have forced us as the United States Air Force to manage that risk in infrastructure and continue to create challenges and hardships for our airmen.
We must provide a safe place where -- whether it be in the dormitories, government housing, privatized housing where airmen can come together as communities. Those things absolutely impact retention, they absolutely impact our readiness, and they impact our ability to build the force of the future. To Representative Gonzales, thank you for joining me at Laughlin last year and seeing firsthand how these things impact your airmen.
Your visit absolutely made a difference. They are America's sons and daughters. They are serving at the forward edge of strategic competition, an all volunteer force that is absolutely ready to fight tonight and to defend our nation. The work that we do with this subcommittee absolutely matters, so thank you.
We are grateful for your efforts, your continued support, and we look forward to your questions.
Thank you. And finally, Chief Master Sergeant Towberman.
Thank you, sir. Chairman Carter, Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz, and distinguished members of this subcommittee, thank you for everything you do for your Space Force, our Guardians, and the loved ones who make up our service. Thank you for your service to our country and your steadfast leadership and support for our service members and their quality of life.
On behalf of our now 8,308 uniformed Guardians and our 4,000 civil servants, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. And while I'm giving thanks, I would also like to extend my direct and sincere thank you to our deployed Guardians and the nearly 75 percent of Space Force units who are employed in place, working 24 hours a day to ensure space superiority for the joint force, the nation, and the world.
Without question, the most decisive war fighting advantage in history are the human beings who serve our nation's military. No weapons system, technology, or strategy sets us apart further or more definitively. This year we mark the 50th anniversary of the all volunteer military force, and that force has never been more capable or more lethal.
It has been an honor to dedicate my life to our ancient and noble profession. For the past three years, I've had the additional honor of visiting thousands of our Guardians and their families across the globe and hearing what's on their minds. My commitment to represent them could not be stronger, and I work hard to get truth from every level.
Every connection and every story matters, and we do our best to ensure Guardians know we have their backs and their service is important to us. Your Guardians represent some of America's most highly technical, professionally skilled, and talented cohorts, which makes them at times difficult to recruit and difficult to retain.
Rest assured, we are finding them. We are investing in them, and they are ready. Quality of life is no small part of that journey. Because, as I mentioned, nearly 75 percent are employed in place, they have unique challenges to their resilience and quality of life. The better we understand and address these unique challenges, the better our hope to maximize their skills, talent, and experience, which are so critical to our mission, a mission that is growing more complex and more complicated by the day.
Since I first spoke to this committee just two years ago, the number of active spacecraft and total objects we track in space have nearly doubled. There is no question our domain has never been more congested, more contested, or more competitive, and finding and retaining the most talented Guardians possible is a matter of national security.
Young Americans value their choices, and talented, capable young Americans have many. We continue to see leading indicators their propensity to serve may be waning, and the recruiting and retention challenge is real even for our small force. We cannot ignore these indicators and must do whatever we can to become an employer of choice, focused on the future, focused on their future.
Our Guardians' quality of life and the opportunity we give their loved ones and them to have a healthy, purposeful, and meaningful experience while serving is essential. Delivering a value proposition commensurate with their talents and abilities is critical to our combat readiness and our continued ability to win.
When talking to Guardians, one of the keys to the value proposition is the work. They want to be on the cutting edge. They want to explore, analyze, and solve difficult problems. They value autonomy and they invite challenge. Luckily for us, there's no shortage of challenge, and our continual efforts as a Space Force to be lean and mission focused lend themselves to autonomy and empowerment.
We want to amplify their guardian spirit and allow them to use their exceptional talents in ways that matter to them. From our super coders program to our space test and advanced weapons courses, we have found that Guardians are happiest when the problems are difficult and we trust them to find solutions.
While this may be the most important, it certainly isn't the only part of their value proposition. The value -- they value direct compensation, and their talents and training are certainly compensated well by industry and the rest of the world. To this end, I look forward to helping my teammates and OSD with the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation kicking off now.
Our Guardians also value in general a quality of life commensurate with their hard work. The entire ecosystem must -- must provide their families and them at least enough to take worry off the table. To that end, the leadership and support of this subcommittee could not be more valued or appreciated. The better we work together to insulate them from unnecessary worry, the better they can focus on the hard work they enjoy doing.
Thank you in advance for continuing to help us improve their quality of life. The quality of housing, the quality of child care, the quality of morale, including their family's health, including nutrition and welfare, including prevention of interpersonal and self-inflicted violence, is not lost on any of us, that we address these quality of life topics, and it is mission critical.
Without a quality of life they value and know will always be there, an all volunteer force may no longer be something we can safely assume. Without quality of life, the most decisive military advantage in history could be at risk. Thank you again for your leadership and your support, and thank you for your time.
I look forward to your questions.
Well, I want to thank each of you for your comments today. And we're going to have some questions now. Gonna try to get through at least two rounds of questions, if possible. But I'll start out and then will yield to my counterpart and we'll go from there. Sergeant Major Grinston, you're about to look back on history and decide about our Army.
What advice do you give to us on the support of our soldiers? How can we do it better, and where should we invest?
Chairman, thank you for the question. My first ask would be similar to what I said in my opening comments, was we need each member, each American to talk well about your Army, to kind of advocate for us and not go off those myths of something you've heard in the past before, just talking and saying it is an admirable profession.
When we've looked and we've asked some of those on why they would join or why they wouldn't, they said, well, I'd be putting my life on hold. And I don't believe I put my life on hold. I think the military service has enhanced my life. I wouldn't have met my wife without the military. I got kids. They were born abroad.
So, I didn't think my life was on hold. But when we've asked our young men and women why they wouldn't serve, that -- that was the number one reason. So, I'd ask this committee and all Americans just to say the military, not just the Army, is a great place to serve, but it's also a great place to grow. And -- and as for the help, I would continue to say please support those quality of life initiatives.
Clearly, we need to invest more in our family housing and in our barracks. And that's why I've advocated for years now to spend at least $1 billion, and that's in all Compos, not just in MILCON, but sustainment and restoration and modernization of our barracks. So, continued support and family housing, but please don't forget about our single soldier housing too.
And that's extremely important, and the help that I would ask from this committee. Thank you.
Well, thank you for your comment. I guess Sergeant Major Black, your testimony mentions the need for a national dialog on the value of military service. Could you share with us what you've been -- what you think about that? Is the Marine Corps shaping this dialog, and what is the role of pay, benefits, and quality of life issues in the dialog?
Chairman, sir, thank you for the -- for the question. Sergeant Major of the Army kind of gave a good lead in to your -- to your question. And in a bigger sense, what's the Marine Corps doing to shape that message? Several weeks ago, the Commandant of Marine Corps actually released a memo on call to service.
And if I could translate that in my own words, because I believe the same, obviously, the narrative of service to your -- in your military, and I speak -- I won't speak for but I speak of all the other services, has diminished. I think unless we can talk about the positive lifestyle of being in the -- in the service, the Marine Corps, until we can talk about the positive service to your nation, defense of our Constitution.
And I can -- I'll expand that to -- to first responders. I'll expand it to community service. Call to serve as not just for our military. It's the -- it's the payback that we give to our fellow citizens in our nation. I've often joked about military movies recently. And in this sort of thing, you can kinda get a sense of what people think about serving in the military by watching what -- what popular culture provides to us. The best military movie recently has probably been Maverick.
It's a flashback of the '80s.
And so, I would offer, any dialog we have on the military, it's like most things. We are not -- no -- no one will sit here and profess that what we represent is perfection, but it is as close to perfect as we have. We continue to strive in all things to be the best warfighters that our nation can provide.
But if we can't attract a deep enough talent, a pool, and increase the propensity to serve in these uniforms, then we will see a challenge to our all volunteer force. Last point I would make, sir, is on quality, qualifications, those that meet the qualifications to enter service. Those are also challenged across our society.
At the end of the day, we are a product of our society. The desire to serve and meeting the qualifications to serve are the opening salvo for all of us as services to have members come in and then serve in these uniforms to protect our nation, sir. Thank you.
Thank you. I'll yield to Ms. Wasserman Schultz.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you all for your presentations. I mentioned in my opening remarks that, over the last several weeks, there's been a lot of reporting on Republicans' promises to cut discretionary spending back to fiscal year 2022 funding levels. And I think we all know this would have extremely detrimental effects on government programs that affect all Americans, but what I want to focus on in this subcommittee is how it would -- what it -- what it would mean, what those cuts would mean for our service members.
So, I'd like each of the witnesses to explain how, if funding for MilCon projects was reduced to the FY 2022 level, it would impact the quality of life for our service members and their families. This would be at least a $4 billion cut from current funding -- funding levels. And Chief Master Sergeant Bass, if you -- if we could start with you, that would be great.
Absolutely. Thank you, Congresswoman. You know, it almost ties into the question previously that Sergeant Major of the Army and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps just asked. We always -- often talk about you recruit the member and you retain the family. And so, any -- you know, when it comes to being able to take care of the quality of service and the quality of life of our service members that we all spoke about in our opening comments, that is at risk, and it forces us to have to make very tough decisions that we don't want to have to make as a service, right, especially when we have to consider that based on our pacing challenge that we have.
And so, big concern on where we are and -- and the decisions that we've had to make when it comes to infrastructure. We need the MilCon that we're supposed to have for -- for dormitories, for barracks, for child development centers, because those are the things that will help us to be able to retain the families that we need to continue being the warfighting organizations that we are.
And any cut to those would, again, put your services in a position where they have to make those very tough decisions.
If you can also, and each of you, if you could also mention -- you know, let's say that we hold you harmless from -- from those cuts in MilCon, but of course that would mean that the other programs that service members benefit from would -- would be disproportionately impacted. So, how would cuts to some of those other programs that our -- that families rely on, SNAP benefits and other -- other important programs, affect service member's quality of life?
You know, ma'am, I would offer that I -- when I talk about quality of service and quality of life, I feel like they're linked together completely. And so, any change in the services that we provide our family members today absolutely impact our folks. You know, as you mentioned SNAP, I would offer to you, right, it -- it -- I think we all agree that we shouldn't have any service members that qualify --
For SNAP, like -- right. Any of those things --
Are Band-Aid fixes. And -- and we appreciate all the help that this committee and Congress does to that end, but I think that's why we're continuing to focus on we really need to take a holistic look at military pay and compensation. We need a holistic look at our health care for service members and their families to make sure that the -- the decisions that -- that we make today are helpful to the future that we've got to have.
Thank you. Sergeant Major Grinston?
Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz, thank you for the question. To answer your first question, as prices rise, and if -- and if we were to keep a flat line in what we've seen in the past, that requires the -- the Army to make those hard decisions. With a -- with a flat budget, we still have a requirement to send currently one corps, two divisions, and several brigades to do a rotation over to Europe.
And with a flat line budget, we're just going to have to do more with the same money we had last year, although --
This would be a rollback, not a flat line. We're in FY '23.
Or even worse. So, no one's asked us to take all those requirements and do less. So, with that amount of funding, we have some difficult choices. Actually, the Secretary of the Army and the chief of staff will have some very difficult choices. We have to modernize the Army and then we have to also take care of our people.
And that's going to be extremely difficult choices for the Secretary and the chief to make if we roll back our budget, considering all the requirements that we have on the military currently right now on all those soldiers and families deployed. And on your second question, if we hold MilCon at a rate and say we're just going to do the military construction and we said that's what we're going to really fund, that -- that comes also at a risk for other areas.
That $1 billion -- and I'll give you one example. The $1 billion that I talked about with the barracks, well, that's not just military construction. That's an old building that we need to modernize. That's a -- how do we sustain it? If we hold MilCon on at a certain level, it may come at risk to do sustainment.
And I use the -- the story of this is it's like buying a new car. It's -- you got a really great new car, and you don't give us the money to change the oil, the engine's going to blow. And so, that's what's at risk if we -- we hold MilCon on at a certain level and we're not allowed to sustain some of those things like our barracks, our motor pools, and upgrade the motor pools.
And -- and that's what's at risk for the Army.
Thank you. Chief -- Master Chief Petty Officer Honea?
Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz, good morning again. What -- what you pose would -- would leave us with very, very challenged resources and would lead us to very difficult decisions against warfighting capability versus our quality of life. And that would be very, very challenging for all of us, as you could imagine.
As Sergeant Major of the Army described, we're trying to modernize the force. The world's going to get a vote, and we continue to deploy and have presence over the world in -- in greater numbers than we have in the past. With those type of decisions, as -- as much of a priority as our people are, urgency would trump our priorities and it would leave us in a very, very bad place as far as quality of life.
It's going to make a lot of difficult choices for us in regards to retention. How that would affect us in other ways outside our fence line besides military spending, such as you described in SNAP, the last Quadrennial Review of Military Pay and Compensation, I think we were less than 2 percent were -- of our military service members were utilizing SNAP. I don't have an exact number.
But looking at data, at commissary usage and others, we're probably five times over that amount today than we were at the last QRMC. So, I can only imagine how that's just going to further fuel that kind of a problem with our pay in our challenging times our service members and their families are having in meeting all of those needs to give themselves a secure and proper place to live and raise their families.
Ma'am, good morning. It's good to see you.
Good to see you too.
To -- to your question, if I could just pull out a bit bigger and then really get to the specific question, first and foremost on any budget, consistent, predictable, and on time. I think if you look over the course of several years in the past, one of our biggest challenges being able to program the funds that we are going to get in a timing and a fashion to then be able to spend those resources in order to meet the requirements that we have.
So, that -- that'd be my upfront comment writ large. To MilCon, as all of us have mentioned, during our travels we spent a lot of time invested in -- in seeing what quality of life is for our service members. For myself, I was just at Camp Pendleton here a couple of weeks ago and touring barracks. Some barracks I'm actually familiar with, because I either lived in them or, you know, had Marines live in them in -- in recent years.
I went to one building that -- that maintenance has been deferred for 12 straight years. 12 years they've deferred the maintenance on just one building that has Marines living in it. Now, there's a thousand good reasons why that is. It's not from neglect of the resource. But 12 years ago, we're coming out -- thinking about coming out of significant combat operations.
Readiness became the issue. The resources provided for readiness are competing with other priorities. We started to see some of these accounts being used for the readiness. Right decision. I would not argue that. But the fact is now here we are. If we cannot improve the living conditions of those who raise their hand and serve in our -- in our services, we're probably going to see a -- a decrement in one of the foundational elements of the all volunteer force.
And one -- just one quick last closing comment, if I could, ma'am. I think we're probably all familiar with the Gates commission soon after the -- you know, the creation of the all volunteer force. There were five pillars, five pillars looking into the future we must maintain. One, connection with the American people; this is our propensity conversation.
Two, equitable pay and compensation; we've discussed that in -- in -- already. Quality living conditions; that's our barracks, our housing for families. Equitable medical care; we may have a conversation on -- on that later. And then our retirement benefits, which track well. But those are five pillars. They are -- they have eroded, and it's time for us to address them, ma'am. Thank you.
Thank you so much. And I'm sorry, and thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Chairman. Chief Master Sergeant Towberman?
Yes, ma'am. Thank you so much for the question. You know, we -- we by far are the smallest part of this pie, but such an important piece it is, as we're trying to grow in new services, we're trying to onboard new missions. And so, tying us to something yesterday, it's -- it's really, really difficult for us to -- to navigate.
The -- the -- the numbers are small, but I think of the -- the dormitory project at Clear Space Force Station Alaska, which on a good day is an hour from Fairbanks. We need that for the new radar. We need that for mission capability. The -- the CDC at Peterson, we need that facility built upon and grown so that we can supply child care for these 24 hour missions for these people that -- that need it. I think of our training pipeline where we're -- we're borrowing.
I -- I went down to Lackland not too long ago, and the dormitory I went through 32 years ago, still standing, barely. They gave me a piece of the ceiling and they said here you go, because we're going to tear it down soon. But -- but right next door to it is where Guardians right now -- this is the space that we've found to do our training.
And -- and the Air Force has been fantastic to help us with that space. But if we can't move forward, if we can't get the MilCon and -- and the things that we need like the mission is impacted, the people are impacted, the nation's security is impacted. So, we really, really need this even though the numbers are small, I would suggest, at least as much as everyone else, because our past performance and -- and -- isn't -- isn't what we need, right, in the future.
Thank you all so much.
Thank you, ma'am.
I yield back the time I don't have.
Thank you, Chairman. Thank you to all our witnesses for testifying before the committee today. I know that we all share a commitment in supporting our service members, both at home and abroad. There's a lot of things we need to talk about, obviously, and we only have so much time. But in the Navy testimony, Master Chief Petty Officer Honea -- Honea noted that demand for telehealth services such as a doctor or on-demand and -- services such as doctor on demand and telemed are highly requested, but the services still struggle with long wait times and service members need referrals before they can access mental health services.
So, this is a -- a big deal. Master Chief Honea, your testimony noted that many sailors continue to struggle with the long wait times for health care, especially mental health care. Can you elaborate more on the fixes you are looking at to ensure service members receive care in a timely manner?
Congressman, what I was specifically mentioning there in my testimony was the ability to have telehealth for immediate access for our service members to reach out to a mental health counselor. Currently, our dependents, they can use that service, call up, make an appointment, and -- and get an immediate consultation and conversation.
Our active duty service members cannot. They must go through their primary care manager or provider for a referral. So, they make that first appointment to try to get a -- sit down with their primary care provider. That will be so much amount of time. And then add that to the referral approval process, and then they can make an appointment through telemed or doctors on demand.
And that takes away the intent of the program. It is for us to have more accessible mental health care, sir.
Okay. No, I appreciate that. And obviously, with the -- the mental health services, that's something that we're noticing some problems there. And my next question is for Chief Master Sergeant Bass, but I know that any of you can probably address this one as well. Your testimony includes a remarkable 40 percent drop in suicide rate among airmen.
Can you elaborate on the strategies that have helped the Air Force recognize and support airmen who may be at risk?
Yes. Thank you for the question, Congressman. You know, we have, as always, been working really hard to really build the resiliency of our force. It's focused on mental wellness, focused on health in general. And so, to that point, we have stood up several focus groups to help us identify barriers that have been in the way of perhaps our folks really just fortifying them self and being their best.
And -- and to that end, you know, we have -- I mean, it's a multi-pronged approach to be able to get after some of those barriers. Some of them were our own policies that created mental health stigmas. And so, we've taken a holistic look at what those mental health policies are. We recently, myself and General Brown, our chief of staff, pushed out a memorandum to all airmen talking about a spectrum of resilience.
And that spectrum really is a -- a continuum of how folks can take care of themselves, with mental health really being kind of on the far right part of the spectrum, because the reality is our nation is short mental health providers, which means the Department of Defense is, which means the Air Force is. But what we're not short of is other supporting agencies, to include we're not short on leadership.
And so, we have worked really hard to build the leaders that we need to have the interpersonal skills to actually just get -- be the wingmen that we need them to be. We are capitalizing on telehealth, and really excited for DHA rolling that out broadly. Where I think that we have some work to do with respect to our suicide rates are with our dependents, though.
And -- and my concern, they are on some of our policies and -- and specifically TRICARE policies, where I think we can -- we have an opportunity to help get after that to help tackle some of those numbers, sir.
All right. And not to -- to draw too much just on the Navy side, but there was a few stories over the last couple of years, and there's even some recent stories I've been reading, about USS George Washington and others at -- right here nearby in Virginia. Is there anything being done to try to address this in a way that we can -- or is there anything we should be doing on our side to try to address this so we don't continue to see these stories with the suicides?
I think there were three that I read about.
Sir, I -- I'd have to do a little bit more digging to understand about the three that you're speaking about specifically.
Well, there were three I think in April within a week. And so, then there are some new articles that just came out over the last couple days that highlighted those and pointed out that there have been some more suicides on some -- on some aircraft carriers or on some vessels.
Yes, sir. So, I'll start with the primary stressor that we have in the United States Navy is simply exhaustion. We're really working our force pretty hard. And we'll -- we're going to continue to have to do so. So, I need to create environments that allow for a little bit more positivity. But if there's something that I could ask from this committee is to look for more ways, possibly through military construction, that we can reduce some of those operational requirements of -- of our expeditionary afloat units.
I can -- I can think of several that I could speak to you about in a different session rather than in this open session. But if we could reduce the operational demand and -- and -- and tempo of -- of our float units, that could really draw down on the exhaustion and the consistent demand we have for request for forces of our afloat units.
Yeah. On the facility in my district, in Naval Air Station Lemoore, I've spent some time out there. And I know some of the captains up there -- out there have worked really hard with activities to try to keep some of the younger enlisted busy, have some fun in the job, but also had some issues with some of the housing over the years.
Had to actually personally go out, spent some time with the folks who were managing the project and the captain to make sure that the housing issues are addressed. And I know that this happens across many other bases in the country. I just -- I'm, I guess, most focused on the one right there close to home to me.
Yes, sir. So, you know, as me and my peers have already mentioned, you know, investments in our barracks and quality of life, of where they live, would be of a great importance. Additionally, our E-1 through E3, our most junior of sailors in the United States Navy, are treated a little bit differently than -- than the other services when they're assigned to sea duty.
They're not authorized by law to receive a basic allowance for housing. So, we consider shipboard living to be adequate quarters for them to live in. For a sailor that grew up living on ships, I'm telling you it's not a very nice place to -- to live. And I would ask that we could look at that law, making those changes so that we could afford a greater break from their place of work to their place of home to give them some of that separation.
I think that'll help out tremendously as well.
Right. Well, thank you very much. And I yield back.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And I'd like to thank you and Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz for hosting this hearing. And I want to send a warm welcome to all of the witnesses and thank you for your service to our nation and for your testimony here today. I want to take a special point of privilege to thank Sergeant Major Grinston for your service and your appearances over the years before this committee to enhance our understanding of how we can support our military families and our troops.
And so, we appreciate that so much and wish you the best as you turn over a new chapter in your life. Let me just ask, and I'll start with Sergeant Major Grinston and ask the others if you would comment briefly, the secretary of defense submitted a report in July to the Senate and House Committees on Armed Services that found that 24 percent of active duty service members experienced food insecurity in the preceding year, with 14 percent reporting low food security and 10 percent reporting very low food security as defined by USDA's parameters.
Food insecurity is a national security concern, as it can lead to poor health outcomes, affect recruiting and retention of our military personnel. And we can all agree that the high number of enlisted families experiencing food insecurity may compromise the physical eligibility of our future recruits. How is the Army and how are the other services addressing the issue of food insecurity among military families to ensure that every military family can afford to put meals on the table and, more importantly, ensure soldiers and their families have an abundant access to healthy, nutritious food?
Congressman Bishop, thank you for your kind words and thank you for allowing us to be here with you today, and thank you for the question. For food insecurities, that's why most of my fellow panel members have harped on the need to do the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation. Until we take a holistic look at our pay, we may continue to see the need for soldiers to be food insecure.
But I also want to say that no soldier should ever have to go and skip and miss a meal. No soldier, no family should be food insecure in our military. And I do want to thank this committee and everyone for the basic needs allowance, allowing us to -- to increase some of the pay for our service members. And I know that's just recently been put out.
And we've just released the Army guidance, I think it was this morning or yesterday, on how to apply for the basic needs allowance. So, I'd like to thank this committee for that. But the other piece of that, of what we are doing specifically is, once we do get our money, are we managing our money the -- the right way.
And we have increased our education on how we manage our money. And we're starting at basic training all the way to the United States Army Sergeant Majors Academy on how to manage your finances, financial classes. In every enlisted PME class in the United States Army up to the Sergeant Majors Academy, there will be a class on financial management.
We've added financial counselors at most of our installations, So, we have to review our pay. And then we've got to take a look at how to manage the money that we do have, and that's what we're doing. Thank you for the question.
Thank you. Any other comment?
Congressman Bishop, thank you for your question, sir. I would like to highlight a place like San Diego, California, where we had an increase in housing costs there greater than 26 percent. Our most junior service members do not make enough money to make ends meet and to have an emergency savings in reserve to handle that kind of an increase while he waited for us to catch up with our BAH increases to offset those expenses.
So, many of them found themselves deep -- well deep into their savings, and -- and it's certainly understandable why many of them found themselves food insecure during those times. Again, to my point that I said earlier to ranking member's question, we've seen a significant uptick in the enrollment in SNAP benefits across the Navy during this period of time.
And -- and I do believe that the QRMC is definitely needed, but it's not going to be quick enough to the need to solve these problems today. Thank you, sir.
Congressman Bishop, sir, thanks for the question. I think we'll probably all have almost the same answer, but one piece that hasn't come out yet is inflation' real. Supply chain is real. And how the pay system is structured, there's not a -- there's not a buffer developed in our -- in the pay system to account for the immediacy of inflation increases.
It just -- it's not there. It tracks along with it, some percentage. But for the last couple of years, as we're all well aware, we've all felt the effects, right, of -- of the food in our -- in our home is based upon the inflation rate. There's no way to close that. So, a lot of insecurity comes from competing with the electric bill, the insurance, the car payment, the rent and food.
Those -- those basic needs as they are in competition with each other. Those haven't tracked well, sir. Thank you.
Congressman, if I could just add, you know, the numbers are really hard to track. We've been trying to figure this out for the past several years. Some of it is largely in part because, you know, you only understand the numbers of people who might self-identify, but there is a lot of folks who perhaps won't self-identify that they need assistance and help.
And so, we've really engaged our command teams, our first sergeants, to help us ensure that we are getting a -- a really good look at what's going on at -- at the grassroots level. I would offer your question, you know, how -- how are we helping to get after that, so all of us I think here can fully say that we are providing the education.
Like, we are providing financial readiness and literacy training all the way from the day you enter the United States Air Force and really touchpoints throughout your career. We have command teams that are engaged. We have -- are very appreciative of organizations, such as the Air Force Aid Society, that provides grants to our airmen and their families, which should never happen.
You know, one data point to that is, you know, in the past year, over 1,029 members have received help from the Air Force Aid Society and over $240,000 worth of food help. So, this is why we're pretty passionate about the -- the need to take a holistic look at our pay and compensation. The supply chain -- just one more additive I would add, the complications with the supply chain are even more challenging as we look to take care of our service members that are serving overseas.
And so, those are some of the things that we as -- as a service and as a Department of Defense have to be more responsive to be able to help take care of our service members.
Yes, sir. And I would just add that the Defense Commissary Agency is taking full advantage of -- of -- of the new, you know, opportunities that they have. The -- the commissary continues to improve that experience. All the services are -- we're doing everything that -- that we can, as said. We're teaching nutrition.
In -- in tech school, we're taking them shopping. We're doing everything that we can. Still, Space Force data from the commissary, 7 percent of our E-6 and below are using WIC or SNAP benefits at the commissary. So -- so, we all look forward to the QRMC and -- and seeing what solutions might be found there.
And until then, we will continue to do everything that we can to educate and -- and inspire folks to -- to eat healthy and -- and get them the food that they need.
Let me just -- if I can -- if you'll indulge me, just to follow up on this, one of the things that is a possibility is to have a -- a seamless relationship between the Department of Defense Civilian Services and the Department of Agriculture that administers the food programs. And there is some stigma associated with service members having to go to these agencies and apply.
So, if there were a seamless process by which the service members could almost obviously be included in the programs at a certain level and being allowed to opt out if they did not want to rather than having to go and apply, do you think that that would -- that would be helpful for the immediacy of it? And for those who -- who want to or need the -- the assistance, it would be built in automatically based upon the information -- the financial information that you already have and the eligibility, the categorical eligibility for service members that fall within that category, with certain things excluded, to make them more likely to be eligible, would that be helpful?
We've got legislation that has been pending to do that.
So, Congressman, I'll kinda lead with this one, if that's okay. I would say anytime you have a benefit that's, you know, already applied, this is human nature. And I would say to your phone, normally you don't change the default on your phone. So, when we looked at the blended retirement pay system to go ahead and put the -- the default to 5 percent, most people don't go in and actually change the default.
So, I -- I believe your initiative to automatically do something, it would be important, just for the -- the theory of human nature is that we don't like the default, and we would go in and it'd be difficult to go and -- you know, I don't want to go change it. And I'm one of those. I didn't change the default on my phone.
So, if it's automatic, I -- I think that would be helpful to the service member. But number one, you know, that's why we keep going back to the -- to the pay, is we really wouldn't want our service members to be eligible for that kind of benefit.
Thank you. My time has more than expired.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First, I'd like to go back and -- and identify with and concur with the comments made by my colleague from Florida, Ms. Wasserman Schultz, about the idea of cutting quality of life dollars out of our service military academies or freezing it or, you know -- I can tell you, I'm opposed to that.
And -- and, you know, I -- you know, I'm -- as the son of a chief petty officer, I -- I can tell you that I greatly appreciate you that are here, because I know the senior enlisted members and -- and the work that you put into developing these soldiers and airmen and sailors and guard -- Guardians, that -- that's important work.
And -- and what I -- what I see in these MilCon dollars for quality of life is these are not just dollars dealing with retention. I see the -- we get a double benefit from these dollars that we spend on quality of life within our military. We get retention, but we also get recruitment. I'm gonna tell you why.
I had two older brothers that went into the Navy. And so, when we're looking at this from a family standpoint -- so, my question is, because I haven't heard anybody talk about this yet, but what -- what is your percentage of what in -- in law -- I went into law enforcement, they went into the Navy, my brothers, but so what -- what is the -- we called it legacy members.
How -- what's the percentage of legacy members that are going into your individual branches of service? And -- and are those numbers going up or down? Because I suspect that the way we've treated our military for the past 20 plus years, it's probably going down. We'll -- we'll start with you, Sergeant Major.
Mr. -- Congressman, thank you for the question. And I just want to make sure I'm clear when you believe -- a legacy member, it's a family member, a father or somebody else serving?
In the military.
For the Army perspective, it's extremely high. I don't have the exact number. It's over 80 percent, 85, 86 percent actually have a close relative that was in the military.
And that's hold true. Congressman, that's -- that's somewhat worrisome. We need to track new members --
Outside that. So --
We don't want it to be a family business. And, you know, when we connect to the people, we gotta reach all the people --
Of America. And it's gotta go outside those norms where you don't have a family member --
Serving in the military. I'm a product to that. I had no family member. Like, you know, they had served, maybe my grandfather --
But like my father didn't serve. Maybe it's good or not that I joined the military. But that's where we need to go is get those military men and women that haven't had the propense, meaning my father, my mother, my cousin --
My uncle served. We have an extremely high amount of service members, it is a family business, and I think we need to reach beyond that.
Yeah. Well, I -- look, I -- I would agree with that. But I think the way that you can reach outside is, when you have a member who says I -- I think that this is a good enough calling that I want my son or my daughter to follow in those footsteps, that says something to the neighbors and others who see you make that commitment through your family.
So, I -- I think it's a good thing. But I do believe it's got to be expanded. We're not just going after people within the military. But I can tell you this. I think if we're losing family members and they're -- and they're choosing not to go in the military or, you know, my father's telling me do not follow in my footsteps, then I -- I think that's the wrong message that we want to be sending.
So, I'm curious what -- just quickly, what are -- what are the numbers in the other branches? Because I've got some other questions too.
Sir, similar to the Army, I don't have the exact number, but the preponderance is very, very high, sir.
Congressman, I can't provide you numbers, but I can provide you facts to -- to your point. There is a system called Jammers [Ph] that most of our recruiting services use. It's an assessment of what in -- society and how people join. It's -- it's a system. And what it tells us is, I'll use the Sergeant Major of the Army's words, it is becoming more and more a family business.
And it's -- it actually reflects back to one of those points I made about that foundation of the all volunteer force. The attachment with the -- the nation and the military, if that becomes too restrictive, obviously challenging to have a continually large propensed -- or a group of people have decided to come into our ranks.
So, I can confirm you're right, sir.
Sir, I would add, right, I'm the daughter of an Army soldier. And -- and so, our numbers, the one -- like the gentleman to my right, our numbers have gone down on military currently serving airmen that had prior military parents, except for that we appreciate that most Army dads and Marine dads send their kids to join the Air Force.
So, we do appreciate that. [Laughter] But -- but -- but it gets back to your point --
Well, my grandson is in the Army, I will tell you that.
It gets back to your point, that our airmen are -- and/or their family members are the best recruiters. And if their quality of service --
And their quality of life is not, you know, on par --
They will then share those experiences. But we are doing a lot in the United States Air Force to help get our message out beyond military family members. And that is through schools, that is we're opening up our bases and getting our --
Communities back onto our bases. We're doing the -- more than we can.
Congressman, it's -- it's all true, right? So, the -- the propensity overall is going down. We've got to tell a better story. We've got to make sure that we're taking care of folks. It is absolutely tied to recruiting, whether -- whether they've got firsthand experience or not. So, every person whose experience is good and they return to the world, it -- it's good for us. So, I think it's kind of all -- all true at the same time.
Yeah. I -- I see my time's expired. But -- but I -- I think, Sergeant Major, you -- you made the point earlier about, you know, we need to have this dialog about the -- the value of service, and I think that's incredibly important. But -- but I think we need to be able to go tell a good story. You know, when six -- one of you mentioned that we're 6 percent of our E-6s and below are -- are on WIC, that's -- you know, that's not the story that we can go out there and dialog about.
So, that's why I -- I'm so adamantly supportive of what my colleague Wasserman Schultz said earlier, because the -- this is retention and recruiting. And I yield back.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I agree with you. This is an incredibly important hearing, especially when we talk about our readiness with our services. And as a proud member of -- representative of military families at Creech and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, I might be outnumbered on the committee, but those service members who call Southern Nevada home, I thank you all for being here today.
Chief Bass, I'm going to focus primarily on you. And access for affordable housing remains such a major stressor in southern Nevada, across the country, but Nevada has seen an influx of people coming into our state, driving up the price of housing. And as you know, Creech, which is home to 5,000 service members, does not have any on base accommodations.
Nellis, home to 11,000, does have a dorm project underway, but it remains 700 rooms -- or dorms short with a lengthy list for on base options. And our junior enlisted airmen especially are left to choose between inconvenient, expensive, and even unsafe options, and they're not being set up for success. Could you please identify some of the steps that the Air Force is taking to address these shortages in places like Nevada?
Absolutely. Thank you, Congresswoman, for the question. In fact, I was just in -- at Nellis several weeks ago spending some time, and -- and remembering a time when I was an E-2 in the Air Force and -- and frequented some of the locations that were outside of the gate there at Nellis. I will tell you that our command teams are -- especially at that location are very engaged with how do we ensure that we have the appropriate unaccompanied housing on our installations, and to what degree and prioritization do we allow our airmen then to move off base.
And how can we make sure that we are in lockstep with our -- our housing offices, who are also engaged with OSD to make sure that we have the appropriate BAH levels that can keep up with the inflation as it's gone. And so, I -- you know, I'm really proud of the push that this team sitting with me has really had in sharing our concerns with OSD on that.
And I'm proud that OSD also has made some advances on BAH levels. Nellis, in fact, increased their BAH I think 20 percent, you know, from last year. And so, that was a big win for our service members. And as I mentioned, specifically for our unaccompanied airmen, every one of our command teams are involved in -- in them being able to either stay on base or have to find safe housing somewhere else.
There are, as you mentioned, some renovation projects that -- that are happening at Nellis. There is also -- we have a pretty strong dorm strategic plan, if you will, on which dorms do we need to fund first. And Nellis is one of them, where it's up in the queue that we're looking at providing some dorms.
But whether it's Nellis or whether it's Davis-Monthan or Langley or Offutt, we -- we are challenged with our ability to house. We have a lot of excess infrastructure. It's not in the places that we need it, though. And so, those are the decisions that that dorm master plan and that dorm strategic plan is getting after, ma'am.
You know, recognizing the timing in that many of our members are traveling offsite, getting housing off site, wanted to ask what are your thoughts on extending the COLA allowance to more bases across the US, especially in places like Las Vegas?
Absolutely. You know, when I think about places like Creech, what I would offer, that we have an opportunity, and we are at some of our other remote locations, looking at assignment incentive pays versus COLA. COLA is more specific to cost of living. I would offer that we're taking a look at some of our more remote locations and looking at assignment incentive pays for that very thing.
And Congresswoman, if I can just add one more piece on the importance of the relationship with our communities, we have really -- our command teams at the installation levels have really integrated with our communities to share the needs and to find out how the communities can help get after that, to include even doing a lot of partnerships with colleges and universities to help house some of our folks.
And so, I appreciate your advocacy with our communities and them helping us with the housing challenges.
Do you think that assignment incentive pay would replace this, you know, before the junior members -- Creech, which many of you know, is 50 miles outside of Las Vegas, so many of these airmen are spending, some of them, almost a third of their pay on gas. Would this stipend be in place of the gas stipend that was eliminated in 2011, or do you plan on potentially replacing that?
Congresswoman, we can get back with you on -- you know, I'd like to take that for the record to provide you a better answer on --
On what it might look like. But, you know, I never want our service members to be paying money out of their pocket to be able to travel one hour each way. We do have a free shuttle that takes our folks there. But sometimes, you know, based on work hours and -- and how accommodating that might be, we've got to look into something.
So, if we can get back with you, I'd appreciate that.
Thank you. I'd appreciate that.
Thanks. I yield.
Gentlelady yields back. Now Mr. Gonzalez is not here. Ms. Bice?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I want to thank all of the service members for joining us today. Let me start by talking a little bit about quality of life as it relates to housing. My state of Oklahoma, military housing has been an issue and the privatization specifically of such. We had serious issues including mold, mildew, pest control issues, and legislation was passed to try to address those things.
Can -- Chief Sergeant Bass, can you talk a little bit about the steps that the Air Force is taking to improve the private -- privatized military housing on bases?
Absolutely. Thank you for that question, especially since it's kind of near and dear to me since I -- my previous assignment before I came to the Pentagon was a Keesler Air Force Base, where we were not short of mold and mildew challenges. And so, I will tell you, it really did highlight the opportunity that we had to provide more oversight at the headquarters Air Force level, but all the way down to the installation level, and really putting that -- that accountability for installation commanders to have more oversight with the project owners and the tenants and to make sure that we have that.
We also added 218 government oversight employees to -- at -- at our locations to make sure that, again, our tenants have somebody that is there, that is providing oversight on behalf of the government, to help really interact with that. And so, you know, I will say there's still work that needs to be done, but we have worked really hard to get after those things.
We also have been having really meaningful discussions on the Tenant Bill of Rights. Eight out of ten of our owners have -- have agreed to all of those. And then we're still in discussions with the other two, and -- and -- and hopefully we'll get there by 2025.
Would anyone else like to address that particular issue? Sergeant Major?
Ma'am, thank you very much. Never want to ask for more testimonies, just to make sure I'm clear on what I'm getting ready to say. But right before the pandemic hit and we really had stopped the testimony season, the service chiefs and the service fours were in testimony on PPV. And some of the progress -- the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force mentioned about the Bill of Rights for the tenants, that -- that -- those were results that came out of -- of that testimony.
I'm not sure where we are with that, but I think, for the Marine Corps, and again, I won't speak for everyone, but it is PPV. We're all kind of in the same -- in the same boat here. We were beginning to address some of the challenges for both the partner and for the services and -- to influence better living conditions for the service members in -- in those housing units.
The same challenges still present -- persist, because I don't think we've come back, at -- at least at this level in trying to readdress, getting all the partners together once again, working on the things that we still need to complete as part of that original testimony. Again, not -- not asking for more sessions of testimony, but -- but I think the problems are still relevant, I'm gonna be quite frank with you.
The mold and mildew, the maintenance contracts, the cost, the upkeep, the -- the -- the recapitalization funds, those are all still issues that -- that still exist, ma'am.
Thank you for that. Another priority that I routinely hear from Air Force personnel is the need for additional food service options at the Air Force Sustainment Center. And actually, Sergeant Major Grinston, you brought this up in your testimony. Food service tends to be a challenge, it sounds like, across the board.
The workers at Tinker Air Force Base number in the tens of thousands. And these professionals are working every day to ensure that our aircraft, including the B-52, KC-46, and F-35 are in good order, but food options are really a huge challenge. And this campus, if you haven't visited, is enormous, and it has become a big problem where -- these long shifts and there's limited access to food options.
So, across the board, does anyone want to talk about sort of what you're doing to improve the -- the food option services on your bases across the country?
And I -- I think we probably all could talk about this, but I would like to thank the Army Materiel Command for taking an initiative on how we can modernize how we feed our -- our servicemen and women, mostly our soldiers on our bases, because we do have joint bases. So, it applies to all of us. So, the initiative is -- what we're trying to do is do a -- like a campus style feeding where, if I'm a single soldier, instead of you must go to the dining facility, you know, can we have other options?
That is not a complete program. But we're looking to pilot that at Fort Drum, New York, so that, if I have a meal card -- and we don't know is it going to be a meal card, it's going to be something else, preferably just your ID card, then you can go to the commissary and say I need this meal. It's healthy.
You know, you -- you only have to have so many choices. You can't get the -- all the choices in there, but you can get a healthy meal, and the service member wouldn't be charged. That would be charged to the government. And that would be a -- that would be that -- that meal for that -- that period of time.
So, if you went for breakfast, you'd get the meal. So, we're looking at how do we open up our entire installations to have all the food service options so that you're not limited, especially on those large bases like Fort Bragg and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, that you can use anything that's open and you can go and get those healthy foods.
Great. If I can speak to Tinker specifically, I'll tell you it is a huge depot with, you know, tens of thousands of civilian personnel, which I'm pretty happy to say that every one of our civilians are able to eat at our dining facilities. What we're hoping to do is establish a -- a dining facility food 2.0 structure.
But we've -- we'll need some, I think, state help with some of those authorities on being able to do some of that. I'm also aware that, in 2025, I believe we are going to open up a second cafeteria, if you will, to help take care of the food piece for them. We've done a lot of work and -- and the local leadership teams have done a lot of work with AAFES and with the commissary there to make sure that those food options and self-serve options at those locations at the depot are available.
The local leadership team also has approved where they allow the mobile food services to be able to come on to the installations, as long as you're an ID card holder, and be able to deliver food. And again, the community has been engaged. So, you know, there are food options there. We look forward to the cafeteria and we look forward to hopefully being able to partner with the state to be able to get some relief on being able to have a food 2.0 transformation at the dining facility there.
Thank you. And just last, I'd like to say I don't have time to -- to dive into the child care discussion, but it is something that I am very passionate about. I want to make sure that we're continuing to provide for our service members. So, thank you, Mr. Chairman for indulging, and I yield back.
Thank you, Chairman. And -- and thank you for your service to our country. I don't know what you did to upset the Pentagon to be the first ones to come before -- before a committee, ahead of some of the -- the four stars and whatnot, but thank you for doing it. I want to thank Chief Bass. I appreciate you going out to Del Rio with us and -- and -- and visiting Laughlin Air Force Base.
I would love to take a trip with any one of y'all to any base that y'all'd like to. I know we visit -- I visited a Schriever in -- in Colorado, a Space Force base. Clearly, not in my district in Texas, but one of the things that we saw there was the need for a gym of all things. Why? Why? Because people were committing suicide at record numbers.
So, it's these type of things. I know -- I know the chairman and I know the ranking member of this committee -- this committee is dedicated towards getting ahead of any problems in a bipartisan manner. So, my first question is to Chief Bass. And if you -- if you can't answer this, I get it. But once again, you know, you're the first ones that came up here.
I'm concerned about DOD's decision to reduce BAH to 95 percent. When I talk to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, BAH is what's keeping their families afloat. And if you take five percent away, that will crush -- that will crush folks. So, my question is improving access to affordable housing is a top priority.
I'm -- I'm glad to hear it's a priority of yours. Amid record levels of inflation, I'm concerned by reports that military families are being forced to choose between housing payments and food security. In your opinion, would increasing the BAH, basic allowance for housing, to fully cover housing costs adequately address this problem?
Congressman, thank you for that question. I feel like it was a two-fer or maybe a four-fer. There were four -- four questions in there. What -- what I might add is absolutely. Does BAH help support our service members, especially when it's able to increase at the speed of which housing prices are, 100 percent.
And I'll tell you, OSD has been responsive to being able to help do that. And we have to continue to be more responsive and more agile in how we collect those -- that data and assess it. The one concern that I have, and we've shared this, and -- and there was discussions on this, is every time we increase BAH, so do the housing prices.
And so, somehow miraculously, right, everybody across the nation realizes that, and we start to do that. And that is why I think fundamentally, I -- I -- we may sound like a broken record. We keep saying we've got to look at military pay and compensation holistically as a whole because -- if -- if -- if we continue to go back and forth with raising BAH just to take care of our service members so that they're not disadvantaged, and then, you know, property owners just increase their rent, we continue in this cycle.
And -- and -- and we've had those discussions again with community members across the nation. And -- and they're all great Americans, but that is something that I might offer I'm a little concerned about it --
When we say increase the BAH.
Yeah. Chief, I'm -- I'm concerned that property owners are raising their rents and we're not increasing BAH. Like, they're going to raise their rates regardless, I think.
But it's something -- it's something that's of -- of concern. Everywhere I go, they bring -- the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines bring up BAH levels, and I wanted to make sure that that --
Was flagged for the department. My -- my next question is for the MCPON. I'm very concerned -- actually, this committee, we -- we've taken several trips, bipartisan trips to -- to the Pacific, to -- to -- to view various different things. One of them is Red Hill, a recent trip there. I won't get into the details of it, but there was a report that came up that kind of -- that flagged for me. Some of the residents that were moved out to Red Hill are now getting taxes -- they're getting charged for moving that essentially is out of their control.
I'll give you one example. There was a -- a woman named Miss Alma, a Navy veteran that normally gets a tax return, all of a sudden got a bill to pay $6,500 in taxes. I mean, that's something for many of these families that's a game changer. I mean, you know, they're -- they're trying to make ends meet. So, I'm curious your thoughts on -- on addressing that issue.
Congressman Gonzalez, I'm familiar with -- with the -- with the issue that you bring up. I -- as I understand it, it was affecting some of our civilian employees, but not affecting our service members. Exactly how we're addressing that, the lawyers are looking into that and -- and coming up with a resolution.
I don't have what that final answer is for you today, but I'll continue to stay in communication with your office and provide that to you, sir.
Well, let's stay on top of the lawyers, because it can take all day to get some of these things done. But, yeah, I look forward to working with you on that. I've got other questions, but I'm out of time. I will yield back.
Thank you, Chairman. I appreciate you all being here today, fascinating conversation. Particularly I'm interested in the -- the dialog around the call to service. I have great concerns about that. We face the strongest adversaries certainly in our lifetimes, and we can buy all of the -- the shiny equipment and the things we need to field on the battlefield.
But as -- as you all know particularly, it comes back to personnel. And we've been here before in the post-Vietnam era. We allowed our services to atrophy. I came in early '80s, and those were great times. We talked about Maverick. I -- I came in just as -- as Top Gun was coming out. But the difference then is we were -- we were face -- we were fighting this on all fronts.
We knew we had to improve pay for troops, we had to improve quality of life, we had to have the right resources to field on the battlefield. So, I concur with all my colleagues here that we cannot allow ourselves to go to with a posture of making cuts to the defense, not -- not on my watch. As long as I have anything that we can have to say about that, we're not going to see the defense side slip and go backwards.
I guess to -- to dial in on something that we -- we could be a little more specific on with the QRMC coming up. I guess I have not paid attention to those since I retired about a dozen years ago, but my perception is, when I look at pay and what folks are making today, because I'm always curious to see, you know, how that looks compared to when I served, I've kind of been stunned at how much it seems like officers make compared to the -- the times when I was serving.
But on the flip side, I'm stunned to see, my perception at least, of how the troops haven't kept up. I'd be interested to know from -- from your positions, do you -- do you think that's the case? Is there a disparity there? And as we go into the QRMC, do you have the horsepower that you need to ensure that our troops get their fair share?
Because just across the board increases, if you've already -- if you're starting from a point of deficit, that's not going to do it. So, I'd love to know what your thoughts are there. And Sergeant Major, if you could start.
Congressman, thank you for the question. And all of us have talked about this before and what we said, it's -- it's really just a math problem. If you start at a lower rate and you have a higher pay and I have a lower pay and you do a blanket increase of 5 percent, you make more. You're going to increase more over time.
I mean, and that's -- that's just basic math. I mean, all you have to do is go and say okay. Every time you say everybody gets the same pay raise, and if I make more, I'm going to make more. And over time, you see the disparity grow larger because you started at a higher rate. So, that's why it's really important when we all keep going back to the QRMC and how -- how do we address this, it's are we doing that the right way.
If everybody gets the same raise, if you're -- automatically get paid more, then you're -- you're going to get paid more. And you do that year after year, you'll see -- we've seen the gap grow over time.
Congressman Franklin, I -- I would agree with you that over the years we continue to have compensation gap grow between the officer pay tables and the enlisted pay tables. And -- and similarly, the responsibility gap has closed between what we expect out of our -- our commissioned officers and our noncommissioned officers.
And that should be addressed. The QRMC is certainly a place to do that. As you've heard from many of my peers, we've certainly championed a complete review of our pay and compensation tables. I would offer this. When we do, maybe we -- we look to link enlisted pay grades to officer pay grades so that, as we raise one, the other one gets drug along with it. And -- and it keeps pace, and one don't ever grow out so far out of balance as we have allowed them to do over the -- over the several years.
What -- whatever it is, we need to put in a system that does grow naturally, keep a close eye on that, something that's a lot more responsive than what we currently have, sir.
Congressman Franklin, sir, I think that's been one of the themes you've had throughout this entire testimony so far. Just as -- as an opening statement, I'd -- I'm not comfortable having the conversation about officers versus enlisted. The roles, responsibilities that we place upon our officers, that's not the conversation.
The MCPON, however, mentioned the -- the -- the resonant point, and that is the roles and responsibilities of the enlisted have increased. As a result of that, especially as we look not today, but as we look at what we're expecting our force to do in the future at the peer competitor level, because we all understand that this is our strategic advantage over our adversaries.
Missiles, ships, everybody's kind of got those, right? Ours are always the best. But it's the people that actually have to employ those systems, carry out the concepts, lead in combat and in conflict and in crisis and in deterrence. That's more and more responsibility placed on the larger portion of the force, which is enlisted.
The question is, does the current pay and compensation, the algorithms, the system that we use, equate to that role and responsibility that's now being placed more and more on the enlisted force. That -- that's the question we're looking forward to when we engage with the QRMC that's coming up, sir.
Congressman, thanks for the question. Sergeant Major of the Army really shared it, which is it's a math problem. I -- I would also add, if I'm not mistaken, I think 2007 was the last time we had a targeted pay increase on the pay scale writ large. So since two -- since that last time we have that, that gap, that math problem, continues to expand.
And that's where, you know, as we all are looking toward how do we ensure that we have a force in the future, an all volunteer force, the thing -- the decisions that we make today really do matter more than anything. And I can tell that you get it. So, thank you for that sir.
Sir, I'll just add my thanks for caring about this. And -- and not only is that responsibility -- roles and responsibilities growing, but so is the talent and the skills that -- that are brought in. So, if we're looking into the future and if the Space Force in some way represents that future, right now 20 percent of our enlisted force in the Space Force have four year degrees, and half of them have two year degrees.
This is all ranks, from E-1 to -- to me. So, if that's what we're looking at, are our formulas, are the way that we figured this out in the past still the relevant comps across America, we've got to make sure that we're looking at the right comparisons, that we're -- that we're paying them with -- for the talent that they come in, that we're valuing our enlisted force by the advantage that they represent and by the talent that they bring to us.
Thank you, sir.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I agree with Master Sergeant Black that inflation is particularly bad on the enlisted ranks, but that's what happens when you have a war on fossil fuels. Last time I looked, I think the Navy's still the number one user of fuel. Since the Marines got rid of the tanks, I don't think you use as much.
And the Air Force is probably now -- now number two. And as far as excessive spending, I agree with Master Chief that -- that our civilian forces are at a critical point -- a critical part of the family. 800,000 civilians in DOD seems to be a lot. That's twice as large as the United States Navy. But to shift, I'm particularly concerned about the front line as we do a shift to the Pacific, as we were -- seemed to be bogged down in Eastern European theater.
You've been out there, I assume, to the Pacific. How would you rate the facilities? Because both on force protection and facilities, quality of life on the front line, how -- how would you rate those facilities and as compared to OCONUS or CONUS? Master Chief?
Congressman Zinke, thank you for your question. I -- I would offer that our overseas installations are generally well maintained, but we have woefully invested in our shore infrastructure and support across the board for -- for too many years, just as much as you -- you've heard from my peers a little bit earlier.
I -- I feel strongly in their ability to be able to fight from and -- and take the fight to any enemy. We'll -- we'll -- we will prevail, no doubt about that. I have a lot of confidence in that. But as we continue to pivot and grow in specific places, Guam, we need to do a lot more investment holistically to be able to get there, sir.
It's seems to be on the front line, because we have our territories, Tinian, Saipan, Guam, American Samoa. It seems like we have forgotten our territories a little. And as we shift to the Pacific, it seems that we have to build. And you mentioned our logistics arm as we need -- we need forward basing to a degree in -- in the Philippines.
How would you prioritize the -- the -- the forward logistics part of expansion in the Pacific, as far as the quality of life of sailors and making sure that that affects their quality of life?
Sir, as we -- as we get further -- further out there in -- in that forward logistics arm, the -- the quality of life and the investments that are going to be necessary are going to be huge. In a lot of those places, you know, it's not existent as you get into Tinian and -- and -- and some of the other places.
But better naval leaders or military leaders such as US Indo Pacific Command are probably more apt to be able to answer this question more holistically than I could, sir.
And congratulations on Space Command. It's new. You're different even in uniform. So, talking about difference in recruiting, we all shared the same -- same look at horrifying numbers, 23 percent. There's a lot of reasons on that. But Space Command, you're a little different. And I look at the Marines. Course you -- the Marines are -- are tough.
And this number of push ups matter in the Marines, and the P -- 250 pumps, the same as -- as it is on -- on all our ships. But Space Command's a little different. As far as physical attributes, as far as -- of -- of physical characteristics, it seems to me that keyboards are probably as important as push ups.
Are you looking at -- at -- at changing the qualification standards to look at more of -- of -- I don't want to say intellectuals, and -- but more of -- of what the demand is at the moment?
Sir, thanks for the question. And for the record, I can still do a few push ups, but --
I bet you can.
So, yes, sir. So -- so, really, I mean, what we know is -- is what the science tells us, is if you don't take care of your body, your mind doesn't work very well either. And so, we're -- we're certainly not looking at lowering standards to some extent where -- where I can survive on Monsters and Doritos and never go to the gym, and somehow bring the mental warrior that -- that I need on console to -- to win in space.
But we probably don't need to do as many pull ups as the Marine Corps. So, what we're moving towards is a continuous fitness assessment that will allow Guardians to show us that they are investing in their health on a regular basis. And -- and if they're doing that, this sort of meeting the prescription of living a healthy life, that a test is something that perhaps they don't -- they don't have to take.
So, this is really about day to day making sure that -- that my blood pressure's low and my -- and my body composition is correct and that I'm getting enough sleep and that I'm able to bring my mind to bear on the hard problems that exist, and that -- that doing pushups and going for runs and -- and all of that stuff helps me do that better, but that the -- the -- the number that I need, you know, once a year in order to -- to make it happen is probably not something that we care as much about.
Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I yield back. Thank you. Gentlemen and lady, thank you very much.
I don't think we're going to -- I don't think we're going to be able to get to a second round for everybody, but I want to have Ms. Wasserman Schultz. She -- she has a hard stop, so let's -- I'll yield to you --
Thank you so much.
Ms. Wasserman Schultz.
If you don't mind, I -- I do have one question that I want to make sure we -- we cover. You mentioned, a number of you, the disturbing, vexing problem of sexual assaults in the military. And the Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimated that 8.4 percent of active duty women and 1.5 percent of active duty men experienced at least one incident of unwanted sexual contact in that year.
And that's a marked 13 percent increase from 2020, and I know you all agree that those findings are unacceptable. Further, the -- the 2021 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Military Members released in September of last year provided prevalence estimates for cases of sexual harassment, unwanted sexual contact, and gender discrimination, as well as a range of other statistics and insights into the problem.
And let's be clear. This is not just unwanted touching. I mean, there's case -- too many cases that are much more serious than that. The survey estimates that one third of active component women, 33 percent, and 16 percent of men who experienced unwanted sexual contact in the year prior to the survey reported their experience to military authorities.
So, I want to start with Master Chief Petty Honea -- Officer Honea. How have those findings of those reports informed your actions? And what specifically have you changed to address these issues? We talk about prevalence of sexual assaults in the military, harassment, unwanted contact every year, and it doesn't seem like any substantive change has been made.
In fact, things are only getting worse.
Ranking Member Wasserman Schultz, I would like to say thank you for picking me first to answer your -- your final question. I'm -- I'm the newest member of this team. I've been in the position -- on March 8th it will be six months. But I'm not new to the Navy, and I'm not new to this issue.
And I'm committed to making sure that we have a safe and secure place for our service members to live and to work in the execution of their oath of enlistment.
But how do we change the culture. I appreciate that.
Ma'am, I'm appalled by it as much as you are, and I'm gonna to continue to try to find ways to solve this problem. Currently, what we are doing is we're implementing the recommendations of the Secretary of Defense Independent Review Council. We're making those changes. We're putting in the prevention specialists necessary.
We're going to continue to try and find more and more of these solutions. I feel confident that, as I learn more and I continue to have your support, we're going to find out more and more of these answers. I thank you for the question. I thank you for holding me accountable and -- and bringing us to bear to solve these problems.
No disrespect, but that's just an unsatisfying answer. I mean, you're not giving me any specifics. What -- what steps are being taken? And I'll turn to you, Master Sergeant Bass, because you mentioned implementation. That's great. But the Air Force stated it had begun implementation of all the Independent Review Commission recommendations in response to last year's questions for the record.
So, Chief Master Sergeant Bass, can you -- can you share what progress has been made towards implementation of those recommendations? I'd just appreciate that feedback.
Yes, Ranking Member. Thank you for the question. You know, and I remember talking about this last year, right?
I would offer a couple things. You know, we continue, as -- as all services do, outlining to our folks that it is not okay, sexual harassment, contact, assault, etc. I think when it comes to the things that we have done, it all still gets back after culture, and also making sure that the recruits that we bring in understand this thing called core values.
And we indoctrinate them into the culture that is expected of the United States Air Force. And so, we start that at basic training. We have -- you know, we have rolled out a lot of things from basic training and now into our operational Air Force such as teal rope programs, where -- where we have airmen that we have developed in a way to be able to help assist from a prevention side, but also a response side if needed.
We've provided safe to report policies starting at the Air Force Academy and beyond so that our cadets and our airmen feel safe to be able to report and get after things. We've also established no wrong door policies, where we have co-located some of our helping agencies to do that. We have integrated inter -- more interpersonal lessons into our PME to make sure that, again, we are reinforcing the behaviors that we think are okay.
What I would say, if I can add one thing, though, to the survey that you -- that you speak about, it's not okay for one person to ever feel harassed, touched, or assaulted. But that particular survey is -- is a bit conflicting because the data on that survey is based off of the number of respondents, and that -- we -- we didn't -- have not had enough people to actually take the survey, to me, to be able to provide a better account for that.
That doesn't --
It's disturbing in and of itself.
Yes. That -- that does not take away that, you know, one is -- is not okay. And so, we are working really hard, again, to really hold ourselves accountable as a service, hold our airmen accountable, hold our leaders accountable, and hold each other accountable. And it can -- you know, that starts with indoctrination at basic training on what our core values are as a service.
I -- I would just close by saying, Mr. Chairman, if we're wondering why they have a recruitment and retention problem, this would be one of the most glaring examples of -- of that reason. Thank you. I yield back.
Well, on that same note, let me -- let me point out something. The reputation of our military is basically in your hands and our hands, okay? We are the money folks, but you're the day to day taking care of business folks. And when it comes to sexual harassment, you make the news. But the people at Georgetown University, if they're sexually being harassed, don't make the news, or at University of Texas or Texas Tech.
Or any of the -- any gatherings of people 18 to 25, there's sexual harassment going on in our society. It's a societal thing. Unfortunately, you're going to be in the -- you're going to make news. And then you wonder why recruitment's down. When -- 10 years ago, you would say health care is the reason to join the military.
And then now we hear health care is a challenge to our military. To instill the pride it takes to get back to what -- to what should be normal for each of you, we should -- the American people should be proud of every one of the services we've got. And the -- but the news is going to be gonna -- gonna hit you first and hit us first.
Okay, that's the way it works in this world. If you think you got a popularity problem, you ought to see ours, okay? We're down around nine to five percent of people who approve of us. And -- and that's not a joke. It's serious, and it's because you're in the news all the time. You gotta come back in -- to being proud.
I'm so proud of our military I can't tell you. If you want to be proud, go talk -- I tell people go talk to an ordinary sailor, soldier, Marine, airman, Guardian. Talk to the guys in the trenches and see the kind of wonderful people we're producing that are serving our country right now. They're smart. They're -- they're physically fit.
They meet a -- well, a category that most of our kids can't meet right now. No matter how spoiled you were, you can't be spoiled and get in the military. You got to do the job. And -- and people don't understand that. So, you're -- you're -- you've got a real challenge. And I think it's -- somehow we've got to think outside the box and come up with ways to make people proud again.
I -- one little idea I had, I don't know whether it works or not, waiting to see, a graduation. The kids graduate in the big class. The announcer will say here's Bob Johnson and he's going to Harvard. Here's Sally Smith and she's going to Yale. Here's Bob Jones and he's graduating, but he's also joining the United States Army or the United States Marine Corps or the Guardians or the Navy or the Air Force.
We need to recognize that as an important thing that they're doing at graduation. So, in -- in Killeen and Copperas Cove, I got them to get a separate tassel, red, white and blue, and announcement that this person is meeting that two percent that are eligible to be in our -- in our military and is joining our military.
You build up pride right there and have the other kids look over there and say, hey, that's cool, and the ones out there that are sophomores and freshmen that are saying it's cool to be recognized that you're going in the military. It's not a negative. It's a positive. I don't know if it'll work, but that's kind of thing -- we gotta think outside the box, get this pride back.
And we need to face those that challenge us with the idea that it's our fault, that we're doing something wrong. It's society's fault, not us. We've got the best bunch of kids going in the military that go in anywhere in the world, and including our academies. And we got to stand up and fight for ourselves.
And I -- and you're the fighters. I know you're doing it, but think outside the box. Come up the ways -- ways to instill pride as you train these people. And let's instill pride in our -- in our families, in the extended families and everything else. I've recognized these certain things that people do. Now, that's just my speech for today.
But one more thing I want to ask you. As far as the Guardians, you have 24 hour duty. Why?
Yes, sir. Well, I needed my GPS to find my way to the building today. [Laughter] So, the world doesn't wait for us. So, if you think not just position navigation and timing, satellite enabled weather, satellite enabled communications, everything that we do as a military and -- and really all of modernity is enabled, frankly, by a very small number of people that keep all of that stuff working and working correctly and not colliding with anything it's not supposed to. Our Guardians are watching at all times and they literally enable our current way of life.
And I understand that, but my question to you is I hope and pray that the -- these guys that are watching the airplanes are not working 24 hours a day, because I fly on those airplanes twice a week. And so, is that too much stress on the Guardians to be watching what's going on? It's kind of like being a air controller.
You're watching all these things go on. Is that too much stress on these people?
Yes, sir. So, the crews are working 24 hours a day. We don't have individuals that are on a 24 hour --
And the question was have they got 24 hour daycare.
We're working on it.
We've got in home providers that provide to those folks that are working overnight shifts. We've got to expand that capability to -- to allow more of them to be able to do it.
Mr. Rutherford, [Off-mic].
Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Very quickly to follow up on the -- the quality of life issue and -- and the stories that need to be told, at the direction of Congress, Secretary Austin rescinded the COVID-19 vaccine mandate back in January. And throughout the course of the mandate, we had over 8,000 service members who were discharged solely for refusing the vaccine and other unvaccinated members were unable to be deployed.
Now, I understand the -- the Navy and the Marine Corps, they're doing deployments now, normal deployments, I think, for -- for their members with -- and no negative career impacts. My -- my question is because I've -- I talked to many of these individuals back home. You know, we have a -- in Jacksonville, northeast Florida, we've got a very large military population.
And one of the things I keep hearing is they -- you know, they want to come back. And so, can each of the branches give me an idea of what -- I -- I mean, look, I understand that there's got to be -- if they're trying to come back, there's got to be a process. So, is anybody working on that right now?
Congressman, we just published our COVID-19 guidance either -- in the last 24 hours also.
Oh, is that right?
Yes, sir. I think it was either this morning or yesterday evening. So, the same guidance would be for any service members that wants to join -- to rejoin the military and the Army, we've had a process for that. If you had a break in service and you said I wanted to rejoin, you just go down and see do you meet qualifications to rejoin the service.
It would be no different from anyone else that had been discharged from the military. It'd be the same process. And if they wanted to go back and get their records amended, if it was something negative in their records, there's actually a process that -- the Army's review board that goes in and looks at how your records were done, and you can appeal to that board.
So, there is a way -- path to service, but it's been no different than any -- any other discharge --
That anyone else has received.
Is -- is that true for all the service branches?
I would say absolutely it is true. The -- the perhaps only difference for this particular incident -- or instance is just making sure that it is quicker an -- you know, quick, fair, and -- and that we're able to handle those on a case by case basis. But there is a board process that we're -- do on those things.
Mr. Carr, as I was leaving this morning to -- to come here for testimony, the Marine Corps released its message on the same. It mentioned exactly the same as the Army had proposed --
Thank you. I'll --
Congressman, it's the same. There was a memo that was released by the secretary of defense directing all the services to take certain actions --
To assure this. And those actions, I believe, are due sometime in late March. Currently personnel readiness is, you know, testifying to the HASC at this moment.
Good. Very good. Well, I -- I look forward to finding that information. Sergeant Major, you -- you mentioned, I don't know if it was in your written comments or in your comments here this morning, but the plan to reduce from 25 percent poor and failing housing to 10 percent over -- over a period of time.
One of the things that I'm very concerned about in -- in northeast Florida is lead paint and lead service lines. When -- when they talk about that 25 percent in -- in all the services, what -- whatever your percentage is, is -- is it -- do you know what percentage of those might be lead based problems?
Congressman, I do not know the exact one -- percentage of --
Not -- yeah.
Lead based paint in the Army housing inventory. But to the original part of that question, the -- you know, the -- the percentage of those, and that was in the written testimony, that is failing. And that's why we really do need that adequate predictable and timely predictable funding over time, so that we can get after that -- that failing infrastructure that we have.
We have to address this. And if we don't have it and we try to budget that year to year, that's really hard, to -- to fix all the housing in the Army. But if we do that, if we can have that predictable funding over time, we can whittle away. And again --
And get -- get those things out.
Somebody said it's restoration, it's modernization, and it's sustainment of those facilities. If we just buy -- buy it brand new, and -- and you buy a new house and you don't maintain it --
You're just going to see it atrophy faster over time.
It costs you more. With that, I yield back.
Thank you, Chairman for -- for offering a second round. You know, I -- I've been retired from the Navy three years now, and I -- I'll tell you it's getting harder and harder to recognize the military. I see it changing and it scares me. It scares me we're -- we're separating each other and we're -- we're -- we're pointing out what makes us different, not what makes us the same.
During my time, it -- it didn't matter if you were black, white, who you prayed to, who you went to bed with. You were a soldier, sailor, airmen, and Marine there to support our country. And I'm worried about the division. So, please take that. I'm -- I'm counting -- we -- we are counting on y'all as the -- as the SELs within each organization to please push back against some of the things that divides us. We need to be united.
You know, my -- my oldest daughter just graduated from college. She's much -- she's much smarter than I am, and she's looking to commission in the Air Force, right? So, I'm worried what her service is going to look like. I don't want it to change. Now, I do have some specific questions. My first -- my first question is for Sergeant Major Grinston.
This isn't -- and look, I spent five years in Afghanistan and Iraq. I believe in supporting our allies. I'm concerned. There was a report -- last month Department of Defense IG published a report revealing over a quarter billion dollars in damages occurred by eight US military bases for housing Afghan evacuees as part of Operation Allies Welcome.
One of those is Fort Bliss, which is -- which is -- which I represent, and those damages were over $103 million. Can you provide a timeline of when repairs to these bases will be completed as an exception of how -- the costs of these repairs to these facilities?
Mr. Gonzalez, thank you for the question. I'll have to take the record because I'm tracking that Fort Bliss submitted about $576,000 in OHDACA funding requests and that they've obligated about $477,000 of those thousands to do the damage -- the repair. So, there is a process in the DOD to request the funds that you need to get those bases repaired, and I'm tracking just a little bit different number than you have.
And we have met all their requirements or their requests. But we'll take that for the record because I was tracking just a different number.
Please do. And I've got an upcoming visit to Fort Bliss with the -- the general there. I just want to make sure that we are taking care of the bases. These things don't just happen. You know, if you -- you support an operation, there's a cost that comes with it. You know, Chairman -- the chairman and -- and a bipartisan group, we recently took a trip to -- Chairman Carter, we took a trip to the Pacific.
One of those areas was Guam, not an easy place to get to. And one of the things that I saw -- this question is for you Sergeant Major Black, was the build up. You know, we're getting Marines from Okinawa to Guam. And we saw all these barracks, which is great. We saw all these -- these different things. But one thing, as a father of six, that concerns me is child development centers.
I know -- I've worked with my good friend Henry Cuellar. We got a child development center in -- in Randolph -- in Randolph, which is in his district, Lackland, which is in my district. And then -- and then we pretty much adopted another district, because -- Fort -- Fort Sam, we make sure we took care of that as well.
But from that standpoint, are we looking -- when we build out in some of these areas, specifically in the Pacific, what -- what are your thoughts, are we -- are we looking at child development centers?
Congressman Gonzales, thank you. First of all, about Guam and Camp Blaz, which --
The commandant and I have visited now three -- three almost -- I believe four times during our tour here in the last couple of years. And we were there and were present for actually the opening of Camp Blaz here several weeks ago. As you would have recognized -- you see the base being built, sir, so you would recognized it as we begin to build barracks.
The next component of that in that phasing is going to be the housing that we're going to build. Part of that phasing is going to be a child development center. It's going to be able contribute to managing that population, as well as the resources and assets that are outside of the base and in -- in -- in the local community, sir.
So, the answer to your question is yes.
I just don't want it to come last. Oftentimes the CDC is the last thing that we build out. And as a -- as a parent, it's the first thing you worry about, is your kids. My last -- my final question is for Chief Towberman. Can't -- can't leave here without a question. I'm really concerned about Red Hill. I mean, it has -- it has me concerned.
And in regards to that, late January Maui space surveillance complex in Hawaii had a devastating storage tank failure that led to a massive leak of diesel fuels in the surrounding soil. Sounds a lot familiar. My question is how is the Space Force measuring the potential health effects this spill may have had on the local population, and what's the -- what steps has it taken to ensure the safety of local reservoirs and drinking water?
Sir, Congressman, thanks for the question. Most importantly, we're taking it very, very seriously. The secretary of the Air Force went out there personally, working with the state of Hawaii on the mitigation strategies. The analysis of -- of the damage and impact of seven -- over 700 gallons of fuel spilling is still being conducted.
So, as soon as that's done, we'll give you all the -- any details that you want. The Air Force -- the Department of the Air Force already put out new guidance to -- to inspect things. This was a lightning strike on -- that caused it. But to -- updated guidance on, hey, look for these things, inspect these things.
And -- and the Hawaiian Electric Company also had some damage. So, we're working with the state of Hawaii. We're getting it all. Nobody cares about this more than we do. It was a terrible accident. Chief Bass, a resident of Hawaii. I used to work for the Hawaiian Audubon Society. Like, that ecosystem is -- is very, very precious.
So, we're -- we're taking it seriously. We just don't have a lot of details yet from the soil analysis, etc. It's still ongoing.
Please keep us posted.
Thank you. Thank you, Chief. Thank you, Chairman, for a second round. I yield back.
[Off-mic] Thank you for your patience today and for your time. Thank you. You're important to us. God bless you.
List of Panel Members
REP. JOHN CARTER (R-TEXAS), CHAIRMAN
REP. DAVID G. VALADAO (R-CALIF.)
REP. JOHN RUTHERFORD (R-FLA.)
REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TEXAS)
REP. MICHAEL GUEST (R-MISS.)
REP. RYAN ZINKE (R-MONT.)
REP. STEPHANIE BICE (R-OKLA.)
REP. SCOTT FRANKLIN (R-FLA.)
REP. KAY GRANGER (R-TEXAS), EX-OFFICIO
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FLA.), RANKING MEMBER
REP. SANFORD BISHOP (D-GA.)
REP. SUSIE LEE (D-NEV.)
REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TEXAS)
REP. CHELLIE PINGREE (D-MAINE)
REP. ROSA DELAURO (D-CONN.), EX-OFFICIO
US ARMY SERGEANT MAJOR MICHAEL GRINSTON
US NAVY MASTER CHIEF PETTY OFFICER JAMES HONEA
US MARINE CORPS SERGEANT MAJOR TROY BLACK
US AIR FORCE CHIEF MASTER SERGEANT JOANNE BASS
US SPACE FORCE CHIEF MASTER SERGEANT ROGER TOWBERMAN
28 February 2023
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