By Claudette Roulo, AFPS, [with notes by the WOTN Editor in bold & brackets], NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y., Aug. 9, 2012 - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the airmen and soldiers based at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station today their service is critical to the defense strategy. [Among Obama Administration/Panetta requests are that their drill pay be cut in half, their retirement checks reduced, their annual commitment increased by 350%, and that they be mobilized one year out of five.]
Panetta said New York was the cradle of the United States military, and that its critical role for the armed forces continues today.
"New York's Air National Guard is the largest Air Guard in the nation, with tremendous cutting-edge capabilities," he said. "And many New York installations, including Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, are making a very important contribution to our nation's defense." [New York is a state that is safely considered to vote for the current Administration in November 2012.]
Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is the largest employer in Niagara County. The base is home to the Air Force Reserve's 914th Airlift Wing and the Air National Guard's 107th Airlift Wing. Together, more than 2,700 service members and civilians are assigned to the units.
The spirit of public service exemplified by the Reserve and National Guard is essential to democracy, Panetta said. It demonstrates a commitment to securing the nation and providing better futures for the nation's children, he added.
"This is an historic time to be serving the nation. It's an historic time to be an American. We're at a strategic turning point when it comes to our national security," Panetta said.
That turning point is the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the resulting cuts in defense spending, he explained. [This, despite rising violence in Iraq, and violence in Afghanistan at higher levels than anytime prior to 2009, with rising incidents of Taliban infiltrators to the Afghan Security Forces attacking US and Coalition Troops.]
Budget cuts must be responsible, Panetta said, and undertaken in a way that allows the U.S. military to maintain its position as the strongest in the world, while not hollowing out the force. [And yet, the Active Component is still overstretched that even with "one war ended," it cannot complete the mission without 67,000 mobilized Reserve Force Troops.]
"In the past, as we've come out of wars, whether it was World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, when we cut the defense budget, it was cut across the board and it hollowed out the force," Panetta said. "It weakened every element of our defense establishment. I am not going to repeat that mistake." [No, the Obama/Panetta plan is to cut the Military to a number smaller than anytime since before WWII, while we are still at war. The Army is already being hollowed out and he, per Obama's orders is requesting that 100,000 Soldiers and Marines be thrown on the streets.]
The best plan would create a defense strategy not just for today, but for the future, Panetta said.
"We're going to be smaller, we're going to be leaner, but we have to be agile," he said. "We have to be deployable, we have to be flexible and we have to be on the cutting edge of technology," he said. [To this end, the Obama Administration, including Panetta, have cut the leading edge weapons, and are now asking to cut pay, benefits, and Troops.]
Additionally, the defense strategy has to take into account potential trouble spots, such as the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East, and it must allow the United States to maintain a worldwide presence, the secretary said. It also has to enable the military to defeat more than one enemy at a time, he added. [To this end, he wants to mobilize Reserve Forces one year out of five, during peacetime, to fill the holes he cuts into the Active Forces.]
The final consideration has to be investing in the future, Panetta said -- not just in military systems and units, but also in companies that service the military.
"I do not want to outsource our national defense to other countries," he said. [Which is why he is giving away the latest UAVs to Europe, while buying their weapon systems.]
The reductions will come at a cost. "Let me be frank with you: I can't reduce the defense budget by $487 billion and not create some pain," he said. [I.e. he will push forward with cutting Reserve Force drill pay by 50% and increase annual training from 2 weeks to 7 weeks, making it more difficult for Reservists to find civilian employment.]
The National Guard and Reserve hold a key role in the defense strategy, he said, and the Defense Department is committed to protecting the New York Air National Guard.
"It's the largest in the country. I think it's one of the best, and I also want to make clear that we are committed to maintaining this base for the future," Panetta said. "We're counting on this base. It's important geographically. It's important to the mission that we need to look forward to."
Panetta said investment in the base will continue and that he plans to look for additional roles for the base as the defense mission evolves.
"We're going to upgrade eight C-130s and replace them over five years with the C-130H3s," he said. "We're going to invest $6.1 million in order to create a C-130 flight simulator here."
The base now has 12 C-130H2 Hercules aircraft. They are assigned to the 914th Airlift Wing, but are operated jointly along with the 107th Airlift Wing.
Panetta also discussed potential effects on communities if Congress allows budget sequestration to take effect in January. The measure would add about $500 billion in across-the-board defense spending reductions over the next decade in addition to the $487 billion cut that's already coming. [He and Obama have already requested that the $1Trillion be cut from the DoD budget, so sequestration or his plan, it gets cut by the same amount. Perhaps this is why they won't budge on avoiding it.]
"We have to be part of the same team, not only protecting our defense, but meeting our responsibility to our fiscal needs," he said. "Frankly, one of my biggest concerns right now for communities like Niagara Falls is not the budget that I'm working on, it's the danger of sequestration and the fact that for some crazy reason, we may walk off of that cliff." [So, the White House continues to push Congress towards the sequestration cliff, fighting tooth and nail to prevent the DoD budget from NOT getting cut.]
While he expressed confidence that sequestration could still be avoided, Panetta said that if it happened, "incredible damage" to the nation's defense would result. [Hence Obama/Panetta want to charge Military Retirees more for Retirement Health Insurance, to pay for "green" fuels, despite the multi-billion dollar surplus already paid by retirees for the Health Insurance they were promised in Retirement.]
"It's a formula that cuts across the board," he said. "It's mindless, and it will hollow out our military. I want you to know that I am committed to do everything I can to fight for your interests, and I want you to join me to fight for what's right. [Assuming their interests are paying more for Health Insurance in Retirement, than they receive in Retirement pay.]
"Ladies and gentlemen, we bless ourselves with the hope that everything is going to be OK in this country," he continued, "but frankly, it doesn't mean a damn thing unless we're willing to fight for it. "The fact that you're here tells me that you are willing to fight -- to fight for that dream that brought my parents to this country, to fight for a strong America, [for] the future, and to fight for, most importantly, a government of, by and for all people."