‘I want to put a safety net under our people’ 


Firing back 
Spc. William B. James shoots at the enemy during a three-hour firefight at an East Afghan National Police Checkpoint on Sept. 18.  Virginia Sen. James Webb, a Vietnam veteran, said his first priority when coming to the Senate was increasing troops’ dwell time.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee said that when he was on active duty during the Vietnam War "we did not see the recurring deployments we see today" nor "did we see the career force we see today," that sees almost three-quarters of the Army’s NCOs as being married versus less than 15 percent then.

Sen. James Webb, D-Va., said, "We had a citizen soldier" who often entered the armed forces through the draft.

As an assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs in the early 1980s, Webb said, "We were beginning to see how we would use the guard and reserve" in the All-Volunteer Force, but "no one was really contemplating we would see the continued deployments" of the reserve components.

Webb, who also served as Navy secretary, said that not even the British army during the height of the empire provided a viable model for the United States to follow.

"Only 6 percent of British NCOs were married" and "the middle class was not called to provide officers" and "the lower class was not called to provide NCOs and privates," Webb said.

What the United States armed forces – soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and Coast Guardsmen and their families – are now living with is the continual stress in "either being deployed or getting ready to deploy." Adding, "We’re only now, after nine years of war, beginning to know what this means" in the long term.

Speaking at the Defense Forum Washington, sponsored by the Naval Institute and the Military Officers Association of America, Webb said that he had three priorities when he came to the Senate.

The first was to increase dwell time from being either 15 months deployed with a year back or a year deployed to a year back. "I wanted to put a safety net under our people. We were filibustered" and did not get the 60 votes needed to end the debate. "But we did put a marker down" with a majority of the Senate voting for the proposal.

He said he believed if the nation called those now serving "the next greatest generation" that they should have the same educational opportunities as their World War II forbearers had. "We think of the All-Volunteer Force as a career force. It is not. Three quarters leave after their first enlistment. These people were falling through the cracks" in terms of quality-of-life benefits.

"How do we say to them that we value your service?"

That legislation passed.

Webb said his third priority was providing care for wounded warriors and "across the board." Adding, he "personally watched how much that has benefitted my mother," who was married to a career serviceman.