July 10, 2013
Newport News Daily Press
July 9, 2013
Sen. Tim Kaine., who just returned from a whirlwind trip to the Middle East and Germany, said the same defense cuts hitting Hampton Roads are eroding U.S. military strength in Europe, and it couldn’t come at a worse time.
Between July 1-6, Kaine, along with a contingent of U.S. senators, visited Afghanistan, Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Germany. The trip dovetailed with Kaine’s duties on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.
In Kabul, Afghanistan, he enjoyed an Independence Day barbecue with Virginia residents who are serving in the military. In Turkey, he toured a Syrian refugee camp and discussed the impact of the humanitarian crisis.
And in Germany, he visited with wounded troops and received a sobering assessment of how automatic cuts in U.S. defense spending under sequestration are dulling the edge of American air power.
“I’m very concerned about it,” Kaine said Monday. “We see the effects in Virginia of the sequester. This was my first opportunity to see the effects in theater.”
In the U.S., furloughs begin this week for thousands of Defense Department civilians in Virginia and around the nation. The employees will have to stretch household budgets and cut expenses as they get paid for only four days a week over the next 11 weeks.
At Ramstein Air Base in Germany, budget cuts have grounded aircraft, and one squadron has no combat-ready pilots, Kaine said.
Maj. Gen. James Hyatt said he could conceivably order men into combat who are technically qualified, “but whose qualifications have eroded due to lack of training,” Kaine said. Hyatt is director of operations, Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration, U.S. Air Forces Europe.
And with the world getting more dangerous, “I think we’re using bad budget strategies to do what we need to do,” Kaine said.
The crisis in Egypt was a topic of discussion at almost every stop, and Kaine also toured Adana Refugee Camp in Turkey, near the Syrian border. About 250,000 refugees have crossed into Turkey from war-torn Syria.
The senator said he’s hopeful that peace talks can be restarted, but if Syria seemed complex when viewed from afar, it was no simpler when examined up close. Kaine said he’s constantly assessing and re-assessing what to do about Syria as the situation evolves.
The trip wasn’t all about problems and strategies. Two highlights came to mind: dining with the Virginia troops in Afghanistan and visiting wounded troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where wounded men and women are sent once their condition stabilizes. He met a couple of injured Virginians and promised to call their wives once they got home.
“That was powerful, to be able to visit them,” he said.