Senator Carl Levin Opening Statement at SASC Nominations Hearing for Gen. Mark Welsh, Lt. Gen. John Kelly, and Lt. Gen. Frank Grass

July 19, 2012

This morning the committee welcomes three distinguished military nominees: General Mark Welsh, United States Air Force, who is nominated to be the Chief of Staff of the Air Force; Lieutenant General John Kelly, United States Marine Corps, who is nominated to be the Commander of U.S. Southern Command; and Lieutenant General Frank Grass, Army National Guard, who is nominated to be the Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Thank you for your many years of service to our nation and for your willingness to continue to serve in these positions of great responsibility.

I’d also like to welcome, and thank, your family members, some of whom are here this morning. The long hours and hard work that are put in by our senior military officers at the Department of Defense (DOD) require commitment and sacrifice, not only from our nominees, but also from their families. Our Nation is indebted not just to you for your service, but to your families. In this regard, and as is the tradition of this Committee, I invite each of our witnesses, during your opening remarks, to introduce the family members or others who are here with you this morning.

General Welsh, as the prospective Chief of Staff of the Air Force, you would face the difficult tasks of recruiting and retaining a quality force and maintaining current readiness to conduct the ongoing war on terrorism, while, at the same time, transforming the Air Force’s force structure to deal with the threats of the future in the face of difficult cost and scheduling problems with the Air Force’s major acquisition programs.

Many of the ongoing challenges facing the Department of the Air Force have centered on acquisition programs. And as Chief of Staff, General Welsh would be leading the Air Force in defining requirements for the acquisition community to fill. Some programs have been proceeding reasonably well, such as the tanker replacement program. But too many acquisition programs are mired down in problems which, unless resolved, will make it difficult, if not impossible, to afford the Air Force we will need.

Of perhaps greater concern is the fiscal year 2013 plan for realigning force structure for the Air Force where the cuts proposed fall disproportionately upon the Air National Guard. Historically, the Air Force has been credited for having a very good relationship with its reserve components which is essential since it relies more heavily on the reserve forces than the other military departments. With the presentation of the Air Force’s fiscal year 2013 proposals for making force structure reductions, however, the Air Force appears to have decided against relying as much on the Air National Guard to provide tactical fighters and airlift capability. The firestorm erupting from this proposal resulted in Congress stepping in. This Committee has proposed the creation of a National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force to advise Congress on appropriate criteria that should be used for force structure when planning the Air Force of the future.

General Kelly, the SOUTHCOM area of responsibility includes the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The primary threat to the United States emanating from SOUTHCOM’s area of responsibility is the destabilizing impact of transnational organized crime. These violent criminal organizations are a real threat to national and international security, and SOUTHCOM is the hub for Department of Defense activities to counter this threat, and a critical entity through which Federal law enforcement agencies are supported. Last summer, the President released the National Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime. If confirmed, General Kelly, you will be one of the key implementers in DoD of the President’s strategy, the committee looks forward to hearing your views on this threat and SOUTHCOM’s ongoing role in the implementation of this strategy.

Over the past two decades, SOUTHCOM’s most significant operations have been supporting the Colombian unified campaign against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), other Colombian terrorist organizations, and transnational criminal organizations. SOUTHCOM’s train and equip activities in Colombia have seen success as the Colombian government is back in control of the vast majority of its territory. General Kelly, if confirmed, you will be responsible for maintaining this important military-to-military relationship.

The success of SOUTHCOM’s support operations in Colombia, however, has – in part – meant that illegal narcotics trafficking and the associated destabilizing impacts have shifted into Central America. General Kelly, if confirmed, the support of SOUTHCOM to those nations in Central America, particularly Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, will be a key focus of your tenure at SOUTHCOM.

SOUTHCOM will undoubtedly be called upon to assist nations in the AOR responding to natural disasters. None of us have forgotten the devastating impact of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile or the hurricanes that have struck Central America. SOUTHCOM’s ability to deploy naval and aviation assets to assist in recovery in the immediate aftermath of these natural disasters is a critical capability that is important to sustain. This committee has strongly supported these efforts over the years and will certainly continue to do so.

General Grass, this is the first time this Committee has held a nomination hearing for the Chief of the National Guard Bureau. We are doing so now because of last year’s legislation making the Chief of the National Guard Bureau a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the specific responsibility of addressing matters involving non-Federalized National Guard forces in support of homeland defense and civil support missions. The Chief of NGB is also a principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense, through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on matters involving non-federalized National Guard forces and on other matters as determined by the Secretary of Defense; and the principal adviser to the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army, and to the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, on matters relating to the National Guard, the Army National Guard of the United States, and the Air National Guard of the United States.

General Grass is currently serving as the Deputy Commander of U.S. Northern Command, the combatant command responsible for homeland defense and civil support missions to other federal agencies and states in responding to natural or manmade disasters. In carrying out these missions, Northern Command relies on a well-coordinated and collaborative relationship with the National Guard Bureau and the state National Guard forces. General Grass is also the Vice Commander of the United States Element of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, our bi-national command with Canada to protect the air, space, and maritime approaches to North America.

During General Grass’s tenure at Northern Command, there have been notable improvements in the authorities and cooperation between the Defense Department, the States, the National Guard Bureau, and the Reserves on civil support missions. As a result, our nation is in a better position to respond to emergencies.

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