Congressman Rob Wittman visited several commands at Naval Support Facility Dahlgren on Sept. 23 to meet with Navy leaders and gauge the military’s readiness on the eve of a second year of sequester cuts. Wittman toured the Aegis Training and Readiness Center, the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division and the Joint Warfare Analysis Center. At Dahlgren’s base theater, Wittman held a town hall meeting and later met with Naval Support Activity South Potomac police officers at the Tactical Response Training Facility.
Wittman is currently serving his third term representing the first congressional district of Virginia and is a member of the House Armed Serves Committee, chairing the Readiness Subcommittee and Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee.
The tour began with an overview briefing by Capt. Pete Nette, commanding officer of NSASP, who discussed the base’s progress on a number of issues such as the construction of the Cruiser-Destroyer Training Center, the ongoing Joint Land Use Study and other installation assets. Wittman noted that Dahlgren’s inactive airfield-which currently supports a small unmanned aerial vehicle mission-could become a “tremendous capability” if fully exploited.
“For us these days, readiness is right at the forefront as we go back and forth about funding and where we go as far as replacing the sequester,” said Wittman.
The danger of the current path, said Wittman, is that the military must neglect its long-term concerns to meet its short-term obligations. This is especially true at military installations and on ships, where neglected maintenance issues can exponentially compound future costs.
One of Wittman’s constituents, a Korean War veteran once assigned to Task Force Smith, recently approached him with a cautionary tale that crystallizes those concerns. Task Force Smith was the first unit of American soldiers tasked with halting communist advances into South Korea in 1950. The soldiers were poorly equipped and despite their spirited defense, they were eventually overwhelmed by the enemy.
“[The constituent] came up to me in tears and said ‘please Rob, don’t let readiness get to where it was when I was called up for Korea,’” recalled Wittman. “We sent people [to Korea] without training and without equipment. We can’t do that.”
The next round of sequester cuts will go into effect next month if Congress does not act. “We’ve got an opportunity to try and get it right this time, but we’re on the wrong path,” said Wittman.
Wittman discussed many of the same themes at a town hall meeting at the base theater later that day. He answered questions on a range of issues-from health care to income inequality to foreign affairs-but the bulk of the time was dedicated to the sequester and the military budget.
“I want to thank you for the great job you’re doing, especially in these trying times,” Wittman told the audience. “The work that goes on here at Dahlgren is amazing. It’s really encouraging to me to see the dedication and efforts that go on here.”
Wittman acknowledged that this year’s furlough was “exceptionally challenging” on Dahlgren’s workforce and praised employees’ efforts to take care of warfighters.
The dedication shown by employees at Dahlgren to warfighters, said Wittman, needs to be reciprocated by Congress. “Congress needs to make a commitment to make sure the resources [are there] so that you all can continue to do the great job you’re doing. That means that during this budgeting time, we need to get off this track of continuing the budget by continuing resolutions, which we know are just short-term budgeting decisions that are an abdication of Congress’ responsibility.”
In light of the alternative-a government shutdown - the continuing resolutions are necessary, said Wittman. “[A shutdown] is not a scenario that I think anybody wants.”
Though Wittman acknowledged that there will be continued uncertainty as Congress nears the beginning of the new fiscal year and a new debate about the debt ceiling nears, but he offered encouraging words about Dahlgren.
“I want to emphasize how important your job is to our nation,” said Wittman. “I know how challenging it can be when you’re placed on furlough and you do the tremendous job that you do, many of you working off the clock, spending your personal tie to make sure our Sailors have what they need. That kind of personal commitment means a tremendous amount to our nation and I want you to know that I continue to spread the word about the great job you all do.”
The last part of Wittman’s tour took him to Dahlgren’s Tactical Response Training Facility, a former barracks that now serves as a training arena for Navy law enforcement. NSASP police officers built several novel training features into the facility, including a video monitoring system that records training, a darkened area for training with night vision devices and mock crime scenes.
Wittman said the facility was a “terrific” asset for the base and the Navy. “It’s an amazing capability,” he told police officers. “You guys are doing a great job here.”