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Budget should be immune to inter-service rivalries

  • Published
  • By Gen. Bruce Carlson
  • Commander, Air Force Materiel Command
I recently had the privilege of visiting members of the Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are doing amazing work. Serving alongside their joint team mates, their war-fighting contributions are both significant and deadly -- they are making a lasting difference to the advancement of freedom and the safety and security of freedom-loving people.

However, it would be hard to recognize these contributions from reading the headlines and watching the nightly news. The ill-conceived notion that the Air Force is somehow less relevant in this war has sparked a new round of inter-service rivalries that is being carried out in journals, on op-ed pages and in Congress.

As an Airman for the past 35 years, I've seen first-hand the essential mission this service plays in defense of our nation. Nobody who honestly looks at the situation can argue its indispensable role. Yet in this current environment of diminishing resources, many good Airmen, soldiers, marines and sailors abandon the discipline and lessons learned from joint and integrated operations and instead tout their service over the others -- all in the quest for their share of the Defense Department budget.

I refereed the joint budget wars for nearly three years as the director of force structure, resources, and assessment on the joint staff. Occasionally I saw well-intentioned leaders make decisions that impeded our joint enterprise because of budget restrictions or political pressures.

As we begin a much-needed adjustment of ground forces, we as a nation run the great risk of doing so at the expense of the other branches of service. The overwhelming military advantage of the United States lies not in our ground forces, although they are without peer; not in our naval forces, although they are the best in the world; and not even in our Air Force, although we are the most dominant air force in history.

Instead, America's true military advantage lies in our ability to fight as an interdependent team, capitalizing on the independent strengths each brings to the fight. This truth must drive future budget decisions.

To mortgage our future joint-fighting capability simply to reshape ground forces is not a responsible decision. Congress must find a way to make the tough decision to fund the adjustment, while at the same time funding the critical modernization issue that faces our Air Force.

Without such commitment, our ability to retain this country's war-fighting advantage in future wars will be put into question. Military strategists have historically been unsuccessful in predicting where the next war will happen and how it will be fought. Our responsibility is to be prepared to fight that next war no matter where, no matter how, and no matter with whom. Today's decisions will determine if that future war will be won or lost. One thing is clear: it won't be won by one service alone. It will be won by an integrated force, properly manned and equipped for victory.