“The global financial crisis is going to have an effect on us in the military, and I’ve thought that for months,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said. “To the degree that this financial crisis has an impact on us, and it will, I worry about an increased level of insecurity [and] instability around the world.”
Since 2000, the Defense Department’s budget has increased steadily to more than $715 billion for fiscal 2009. But the chairman said he expects DoD will have to “start tightening our belt” and making adjustments.
“It’s going to take a very healthy debate about what it’s going to take to provide for our national security during these very challenging times,” Mullen said. “We’ve got to get our arms around this.”
The department is going to have to start trying to reduce costs, he said, citing uncertainty over how quickly the financial impact will settle in. “It’s certainly too early to determine, but I think it’s virtually certain that it will have an impact on us,” he said.
“We need to pay an awful lot of attention to that,” he continued. “I clearly think it’s going to impact the Department of Defense, but I don’t know the specifics of that at this particular point in time and how the new administration will address this.”
But as officials scrutinize future budget requests, Mullen said, the military can’t afford to lose sight of caring for its members, whom he regularly calls DoD’s most important resource. He noted dramatic improvements in the last 10 years in pay and benefits, veteran compensation, health care and family care programs.
“We’ve got a chance to get this right,” he said, remembering the inadequate care Vietnam veterans received until recently. “We’ve got huge challenges in health care, just like the rest of the country, [and] like other organizations throughout the country and throughout the world, we’re going to have to get a handle on this.”
Air Force Staff Sgt. Adam Rosen of the 1st Component Maintenance Squadron here is an unmarried airman who said he feels the effects of the weakening economy, but not as much as others with families to support.
“Obviously, the economy is not going to be a quick fix, but it’s reassuring that the senior leadership recognizes the issues,” Rosen said. “Hopefully, we can continue our missions around the world without significant setbacks.”