Weekly Columns

Several of my colleagues and I recently visited American military posts in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The trip gave us an opportunity to check in on American troops—including several Arkansans—serving abroad and find out what we can be doing to ensure that they can safely and successfully complete their important missions. Meeting with our military leaders at these bases, and talking with the service members under their command, gives me great confidence in the ability of our Armed Forces to deter, prevent and respond to threats and provocations against the United States and our allies.  

These brave men and women are working to protect our national security interests amid growing concerns about the activities of countries including Russia and Iran, as well as non-state actors like ISIS, Boko Haram and other radical groups. The work being done by our military personnel at these posts ensures that our nation is prepared to meet any crisis or challenge to ourselves or our allies head on.

The trip was timely given the Senate debate on legislation to provide our troops with the necessary resources, equipment and training began upon our return. The National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA) authorizes $716 billion for our nation’s defense to ensure our military is prepared to address the wide range of threats the U.S. and our allies face in the world today. It also authorizes a 2.6 percent pay raise for our troops—the largest pay raise for our service members in almost a decade. This extra money in their paychecks will improve the quality of life for the men and women who sacrifice so much to protect our freedoms. 

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill. Now both chambers of Congress will address the differences in our two versions of the NDAA before sending the approved compromise legislation to the president. As members merge the two bills, there is one very important provision in the Senate version that should remain intact—my amendment to require the Pentagon to conduct an assessment of the need for combat enablers while it determines whether we should permanently station a U.S. Army brigade combat team in Poland. 

When I visited with our military leadership in Poland, they stressed it was critical that the U.S. maintain forces in Europe to serve as a deterrence to Russian aggression. The underlying text of the Senate-passed NDAA included language that would require the Secretary of Defense to conduct an assessment of the feasibility and advisability of permanently stationing a U.S. Army brigade combat team in Poland. Military leadership on the ground there emphasized the importance of having combat enablers—such as engineers, electronic warfare and intelligence experts—to support the brigade combat team’s efforts to deter aggression by Russia and execute contingency plans. 

Combat enablers are the essential non-combat force that help to maintain our defense posture around the globe. They can help us prepare for the serious threats Russia poses to our allies and interests in Eastern Europe. If we are going to maintain forces in Poland, we should set them up to succeed by stationing combat enablers with them. 

The feedback I’ve received from our military leaders tells me that we have to be strategic and clear-eyed about the situation developing in Eastern Europe. Combat enablers in Poland would be key to upholding our commitment to give our servicemen and women all the tools and resources needed to see their missions through to a safe completion.