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ROGER WICKER: New defense bill supports state’s role

The bill sets forth a comprehensive plan to meet our military’s needs and to keep our nation safe. Working on this legislation is one of my responsibilities as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. As chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee, I am particularly engaged with the protection and the promotion of our nation’s maritime interests.

This year’s bill follows the advice of the National Defense Strategy authored by Defense Secretary James Mattis. That strategy seeks to preserve America’s military superiority amid the growing influence of China and Russia.

Congress is working to move the defense bill forward. Passage of the bill would add to the bipartisan tradition that has pushed the bill across the finish line for nearly six decades. Congress is sending the President a thoughtful and coordinated plan to reinvigorate our military and maintain its status as the most capable fighting force in the world. Part of the plan would also include a significant pay raise for our service members – the largest in nine years.

I championed several provisions in this year’s bill to advance our defense strategy and support the role that Mississippi plays in our national defense. These provisions would help achieve:

  • Maritime strength. The bill would accelerate the buildup of our naval fleet with the authorization of $23 billion for shipbuilding, including the construction of 11 new ships. The pursuit of a 355-ship fleet became our national policy with the passage of my “SHIPS Act” last year. In supporting advanced procurement funding, the bill would help remove uncertainty from the defense industrial base and ultimately save taxpayer dollars.
  • Naval readiness. The bill would take steps to prevent accidents like those involving the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald in the Pacific last year, which took the lives of 17 American sailors. The bill would adopt provisions from the “Surface Warfare Enhancement Act,” which I authored with Sen. John McCain and which calls for the implementation of better maintenance, training, and management, just as the Navy recommended after its investigations of the collisions.
  • Guard and Reserve parity. Our nation continues to ask more of our National Guard and Reserve, yet these service members do not have all of the same benefits as those in our military’s active-duty components. The defense bill would correct two of the remaining gaps, by offering bonuses for Guardsmen and Reservists who deploy frequently and protecting federal civilian workers from pay reductions because of their deployment.
  • More Junior ROTC programs. As a former ROTC cadet, I can attest to the benefits these programs offer young people during a formative time in their lives. Participation in Junior ROTC at high schools has been linked with higher graduation rates and a lifelong dedication to service and leadership. The defense bill includes my provision to add 100 Junior ROTC programs, giving more high school students in rural and underserved areas the chance to participate.

Mississippi is a valued contributor to our military, home to strong defense manufacturers and many men and women who volunteer to serve. The new defense bill would strengthen those contributions, recognizing that the strategic steps we take now are essential to keeping our nation safe and our troops prepared for the many challenges and threats we will face in the future.

ROGER WICKER is a U.S. Senator from Mississippi. Contact him at 330 W. Jefferson St., Tupelo, MS 38803 or call (662) 844-5010.