Jul 18, 2017 | In the News

Barksdale’s B-52s would keep flying, Fort Polk’s troops would earn raises and fighter jets in Belle Chasse would remain action ready in a bulked up defense budget bill passed by the House.

“This can put us back on the path to American military superiority,” said 5th District U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, in an interview with USA Today Network.

Abraham is Louisiana’s only member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The bill, passed Friday, must still get the Senate’s stamp and President Trump’s signature before it becomes law.

Abraham said Louisiana’s federal military bases and troops would thrive under the bill, which he said would stave off any reductions or closures in the state. Fort Polk was most recently at risk in 2015.

“We have to be on guard against any future troop or base reductions here or anywhere else with the threats facing our country,” Abraham said.

“Some of the best men and women in uniform serve at Barksdale, Fort Polk and Belle Chasse (Naval Air Station),” he said. “In addition, the economic impact in Louisiana is immeasurable.”

Fourth District U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton, and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, also praised the bill’s passage.

An amendment from Johnson also strengthens cyber security.

“Our armed forces are nearing a readiness crisis, but this Congress and the administration are once again making our military a top priority,” Johnson said in a statement. “Our men and women in uniform deserve the very best we can offer – in resources, training, support and pay. This legislation is a step in the right direction.”

Higgins said defense spending reductions under former President Obama had weakened America’s military.

“After a decade of cuts that slashed almost 25 percent of the defense budget, Congress is rebuilding and strengthening our military,” Higgins said in a statement.

“This plan bolsters American defense initiatives in rapidly evolving theaters of engagement and ensures that our boots on the ground have the necessary resources to defend our homeland and keep America safe,” he said.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which passed 344-81, provides $631.5 billion in defense funding, $28.5 billion above President Trump’s budget request.

Among the highlights for Louisiana’s military bases include:

Barksdale Air Force Base

  • Begins process of engine overhauls for the B-52 bombers headquartered at the base, which would extend the life of the jets beyond 2050, improve range and fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs.
  • Supports the Air Force Global Strike Commands’ strategy to enhance science, technology, innovation and collaboration through outreach to academic institutions and researchers. It also supports the creation of an institute for nuclear deterrence operation and nuclear command, control and communications.

Fort Polk

  • Funds a 2.4 percent pay raise that will benefit the 10,000 troops and their families stationed at the base.
  • Authorizes increases in the sizes of most branches of the military, including a 10,000-troop increase for active duty army, 4,000-troop increase for the National Guard and 3,000-troop increase for the Army Reserve. Many of these additional troops will train at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk.
  • Prevents another round of base realignment and closures that put Fort Polk at risk in the past.

Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans (Belle Chasse)

  • Supports the recapitalization of Navy Reserve tactical aviation squadron at Belle Chasse, which directs the Air Force to examine the lifespan of planes currently at use at the base to clear the way for newer planes in the future.
  • Supports the continued use of the F-15C fighter plane.

Greg Hilburn, Monroe News Star

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