Skelton returns home after long trip to Asia

Many of America’s Armed Forces are on the move in the Pacific and the challenges are greater than just packing some bags according to those who oversee the process.
Congressman Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, along with a delegation of House members visited Marine bases in Okinawa and Guam last month to look at a move scheduled to happen soon. Currently, there are 18,000 Marines on the island of Okinawa. Skelton said an agreement with Japan calls for 8,000 of those Marines to move soon. He said problems are from where to house the Marines and infrastructure.
“This will not just be 8,000 Marines. It will also be 9,000 dependents,” Skelton said.
To further complicate things, Skelton said not all of the necessary training could be done on the island of Guam. He said some training would have to take place on the Island of Saipan, about 135 miles away.
Skelton said before the trip the delegation met and was briefed by Pacific Commander Adm. Timothy J. Keating.
Skelton said the last leg of the trip included a trip to South Korea to meet with leaders there and to inspect troop movements from bases in Seoul to Camp Humphries, about 26 miles south of the South Korean capitol.
Last week, President Barack Obama submitted a budget to Congress, in which defense spending may see reductions in the near future as the government struggles to find ways to come up with more revenue to support that budget.
Last week, in media reports and an article in The Atlantic’s March edition, talks about how the Airforce’s F-22 fighter jet may be on the chopping block.
Skelton said his committee has a subcommittee studying the subject right now.
Skelton said the sub-committee would make its recommendation after the President makes an announcement about the jet. He said the Air Force wants the jets.
Recently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated to Congress that he believed the 180 planes the Air Force has now is enough. Skelton said many factors would have to be examined including the economic impact of shutting down the assembly line. Parts for the F-22 are manufactured in more than 40 states.
“We left that decision to the new administration,” Skelton said. “If you cut off the F-22, there are substantial costs in cutting it off and if you keep going that costs additional monies as well. On the other hand cutting some systems will help go toward cutting the deficit, but you have to be very careful in what you got.
“There’s none better,” he said speaking of the F-22. “The question is whether or not the 180 of them we have now is sufficient.”
Skelton said ultimately the decision lies in the hands of Congress.
“It’s up to Congress to decide,” Skelton said. “The White House can propose, but we buy and fund things here. The White House doesn’t fund things. I think the founding fathers intended for us to work our will.”

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