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Stronger DOD means a safer America

Standing in Djibouti as I visited troops over the holidays, a young soldier with the Minnesota National Guard, no more than 22 years old, ripped the patch off his camouflaged blouse and slapped it into my palm with a hearty, “Thank you, sir.”

No award or decoration will ever mean as much to me as that humble patch.

In the past few days, we’ve all seen America’s service members in the halls of our capitol. In the past few months as the acting secretary of Defense, I’ve visited our forces around the world, from Somalia to Indonesia, England to Afghanistan. Everywhere I’ve been, that same dedication and selfless sacrifice to duty is on display, albeit without the pizza from grateful lawmakers and the watchful eye of media cameras.

More than ever, I believe our future as a nation rests in the hands of the young people who have dedicated their lives to defend our country and our values. They are why I took this job: to finish what President Trump, the commander-in-chief, started four years ago, namely, winding down America’s forever wars and turning our forces to the increasingly complex challenges that face our great nation.

The president, with the bipartisan support of the Congress, resolved to strengthen the department. A major priority was support to our service members in the form of a 3.1 percent pay raise, the largest in a decade.

Yet money isn’t enough. The administration embarked on rebuilding the country’s military by taking a hard look at the strategy which guides our forces. The result was the 2018 National Defense Strategy — the first published in a decade, which I encourage you to read here. This became the Defense Department’s guiding star, restoring America’s competitive edge with common-sense principles such as increased technological innovation and preparing the USA for great power competition with current and projected near-peer rivals.

Armed with clear priorities, the administration secured the largest R&D budget in history totaling $106.6 billion, modernizing the force with investments in hypersonics, 5G, artificial intelligence, and directed energy. We also conducted the first Nuclear Posture Review in a decade and fully funded our Nuclear Triad, ensuring the backbone of our country’s deterrence posture into an uncertain future.

Under President Trump, the Defense Department stood up Space Force, the first new service branch in 70 years. From the smallest fleet since 1916, our navy grew from 271 to 296 ships. Likewise, the Air Force delivered its 500th F-35 while reducing the cost of the aircraft by 26 percent. We began in 2016 with the smallest army since World War II and leave with a force grown by nearly 10,000 soldiers. And finally, the Marine Corps established its first new base since the Truman administration, Camp Blaz, Guam.

We took on waste, fraud, and stupid spending. All told, the Department identified $5 billion in defense-wide savings and completed a wholesale audit of the entire budget for the third consecutive year — setting a precedent for reform that will yield dividends well into the future.

The president not only smartly increased our spending, he convinced other nations to open their wallets as well. On the day the president took office, only three NATO member countries joined the U.S. in spending 2 percent or more of GDP on defense. President Trump made that lopsided inequality a personal mission and as a result, NATO members increased their military funding by $130 billion. Today, nine nations join the U.S. in meeting NATO’s 2 percent spending goal. Along the same lines of strengthening allies and partners, the department bolstered foreign military sales, notifying Congress of $207 billion worth of transactions with 151 countries, selling 993 aircraft, 898 vehicles, and 78 ships.

This buildup of our nations’ military proved invaluable to the country.

The United States destroyed the ISIS caliphate and killed thousands of ISIS fighters including its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. We took out other al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan, Yemen, and across Africa while simultaneously rescuing 23 Americans from terrorist and criminal organizations. We countered Iran’s malign behavior, eliminating Qasem Soleimani, the terrorist head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, who was personally responsible for the death of hundreds of American soldiers.

Not since the 1860s has our nation seen its military on display so close to home as it has in 2020 (and in what appears to be the sequel, 2021). Today, as I write, over 25,000 National Guard troops stand the watch in Washington, D.C. Last month, Operation Warp Speed, the largest government undertaking since the Manhattan Project, helped bring two COVID-19 vaccines to the American people. And last year saw our troops called to action in all 50 states, to open food banks, distribute COVID tests, quell riots, prevent looting, set up field hospitals, drive ambulances, and backfill for first responders. The department provided 20 million masks, 7 million test swabs, nearly 1,000 ventilators to federal agencies, and by the time you read this, 30 million vaccine doses.

Whether being treated, comforted, rescued, served, or defended by our men and women in uniform, today more than ever, Americans cherish their military.

As I leave an organization I have served since first enlisting in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1983, I do so with enormous pride and gratitude for the institution, the administration, and the patriots who raise their right hand every day to serve our nation.

I wish my successors well and encourage them to work together to leave the Department of Defense and the citizens it serves stronger and more secure.

Christopher Miller is acting secretary of Defense.

Tags Donald Trump

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