SERGEANT MAJOR BRYAN BATTAGLIA: Well, good morning. Congressman Bishop, Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers, general and flag officers, military family members, our wounded warriors; Lisa, my wonderful bride; Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Mike Leavitt and his wife, Deb; distinguished panelists and speakers, ladies and gentlemen, good morning and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak with you.
First, I think it’s only fitting to take a short moment and acknowledge, with a special thanks, to all the folks responsible, notably our co-chairs, for bringing this idea and forum to a continued reality and their help in developing solutions to some of the issues and challenges faced and shouldered by our military families and veterans. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a round of applause. (Applause.)
Well, as Congressman Bishop alluded to earlier, what an interesting and action-packed itinerary in store for you and I today. Hopefully, along with the spreading of some education and information sharing from the speakers and panelists, I too am excited to also see some innovative thought, some collaborative dialogue from you in finding better ways to support, serve and provide for our military families.
You know, how ironic that just yesterday, the 30th of November, concluded recognition of month of the military family. And while we in uniform probably regard every month as month of the military family, I hope you share in my excitement that we are indeed grateful that our country and its patriotic citizens acknowledge our families in such a distinguished regard to have a portion of the calendar year reserved and devoted for us.
Ladies and gentlemen, as your U.S. armed forces senior noncommissioned officer, I think I’ll start this by saying that the lifeline in my execution of my office is embedded in the positional motto: total commitment to the total force. And I bring that up to say that I think you all understand what total commitment is, allow me to touch on what I mean by total force.
Think of this term as a kind of in a cradle-to-grave sort of way: From across the five service branches of all categories and components, from the military infant to the young teenager enrolled in JROTC, to the service member currently serving in uniform, to the spouse, through the military retiree residing in one of our rest homes or even as a lifelong member of the American Legion – they’re all part of this total force, and they all live and work throughout the cities and towns across America.
It’s also important, I think, to note that our spouses who have lost service members are indeed lifetime members of this total force. Said another way, everyone in the total force belongs to a family. So when we talk family, we talk total force. I welcome you to adopt and embrace this model as well, as it’s meant to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
I, like the 2.3 million serving, all joined this profession of arms knowing that we’re likely to experience some sacrifice in defending and supporting our nation. Certainly one of the many sacrifices is delivered in the form of separation and hardships that are placed on our family. My wife, Lisa, reminded me that this recent move to Washington, D.C., was our 16th home. Some time ago there was a period in our marriage, while at our five-year mark, she reminded me that I had been deployed for three of them.
Military families in this very audience have lived similar experiences, and that’s one of the significant differences and special qualities between a military family and a nonmilitary one. But you know, just as important as we may always be different in that aspect, there’s one common bond. Regardless of whether we’re military or not, we’re all every bit of all-American family.
When our members complete service and return with their families to urban and rural communities, they have expectations to mesh and gel within the townships they reside and continue to live the dream as productive members of society, either in the workforce, through continued education or maybe even a combination of both.
We should not forget that they left their families and jobs, and in some cases more than a decade ago, to wear the cloth of the very nation they swore to protect. Many left a stable, well-paying job and have returned to unprecedented rates of joblessness. Veteran unemployment continues to rise, especially among our younger vets.
You and I can help market and exploit to our community leaders and business owners of the specialized skills, the commitment and work ethic, in hopes that our military vet becomes employed and retains financial stability to properly and sufficiently support his or her family. Added to that I think is the employer has invested in a very lucrative asset to his business or corporation.
Now, we do acknowledge and appreciate that some employers and business owners across the land have allowed our service members to remain on the books while they were called away to serve short tours overseas, and happily return to an existing position within that company. Let us not forget that challenges to the military family don’t end after deployment. Families face very unique challenges during and after, from complicated childcare to children’s education to spouse employment opportunities, just to mention a few.
I hope we can rely on your involvement and leadership to help develop ways to reduce and subside some of the complexities with care and sustainment to our military families. I recently visited a VA center in the southern part of the country. And when briefed on the veteran homelessness rate for that specific state and region – sadly, like divorce and suicide, the numbers are climbing. It was very shocking, within those homeless statistics, as to how many women – moms – are in that mix.
My ignorance had me assume that since one was homeless that probably played a direct impact on joblessness. Not necessarily true. Quite a few had jobs, but had lost their homes and cannot afford rent or mortgage on their current salary and pay, so shelter life or living out of a vehicle is their surviving method of domicile. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that we, as leaders in any capacity – state or government – have an obligation to eliminate homelessness, especially among our veterans. Homelessness coupled with the reduction of divorce and suicide is certainly on my list of priority.
Since 1973, we have operated as an all-volunteer force. And during this almost 40-year period, several times, as most of you all remember, we have fluctuated in size. This adjustment in force structure of our military impacted both capability and capacity across the services. It’s that time again – time to downsize; time to reshape the force.
This means that as service members return home from theaters of operation, and they and their families relocate and settle to a community to start a new chapter, I believe I echo the feelings of my senior enlisted in the five services and the noncombatant commands to say that our military families are not really in search for a handout, but many may need a hand up. They look for no fanfare, just opportunity, especially in these forthcoming times where fiscal adjustments will play an impact on each and every one of us.
I am proud to say, though, that our families today are very fortunate to have and benefit from the advocacy and support of important forums, like this caucus, and to have the undivided interest of our congressional leadership. Upon assumption as our 18th chairman, General Dempsey published a letter to the entire force. Its contents targeted four areas. One of those areas addressed: keeping faith with the military family.
Allow me to echo and paraphrase: Men and women in uniform, veterans of all generations and their loved ones, have fought harder and sacrificed more over the last decade than many will ever know. They have shown remarkable commitment, strength and resilience. They remain the heart and soul of our force. Ten years of war have strained our family, and impending budget impacts have cast uncertainly among our ranks. The wars have left wounds both seen and unseen, the burden stretching far beyond the active duty force. Repeated deployments have upended families, employers and communities. No aspect of the military family has been unaffected, no corner of the country untouched.
We’re strong and we’re resilient, but we must never take this for granted. Keeping faith means recognizing the families’ – the military families’ extraordinary contributions and sacrifices, supporting them in ways they need most and preserving the trust between us. And in doing so, we must constantly learn, adjust and improve how we will meet the long-term needs of those who defend our nation.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you again for allowing me to share some remarks. And may God continue to bless our troops and families. (Applause.)