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Forum draws defense department heavyweights

Posted: November 17, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 17, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Chariman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey speaks at the Reagan Library on Saturday.

 

SIMI VALLEY — Some of the biggest players in the United States defense field gathered Saturday to talk over the economic and strategic challenges facing the military and how to ensure the nation’s armed forces remain well-prepared and adequately funded through the next decade.

The Reagan National Defense Forum attracted numerous defense heavyweights to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley Saturday, including U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin E. Dempsey, who as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a primary military adviser to the president and the nation’s top-ranking military officer.

Local Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, worked to organize the event and served as its chairman.

McKeon said Saturday he hopes the forum will begin a constructive and continuing dialogue on how to address the nation’s defense needs, especially in a time of lingering budget uncertainty.

“That’s my hope and I think it’s a great start,” McKeon said of the forum.

In addition to speeches by Dempsey and Hagel, the forum included a number of panels to discuss different topics, including how to care for wounded soldiers, how national defense strategy can or should change in the near future and the economic challenges facing both the Department of Defense and the industrial base that supplies it.

A major economic challenge that seemed to keep popping up was the topic of sequestration budget cuts.

Those cuts could total $500 billion and would be on top of a planned $487 billion reduction in spending over the next decade.

“What we lack right now as we go into the sequestered budget are the resources to be able to reach out and develop and do the research and development,” said General James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps. “That’s probably what worries me the most.”

McKeon, who serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees the nation’s military for the House of Representatives, has regularly criticized the sequester, saying it would have a disastrous impact on defense.

Dempsey said the impacts of sequestration would be felt more fully in the future, as years of cuts could erode the depth of the nation’s military manpower and reduce needed resources.

“Now we do have peace through strength today, but we may not have it tomorrow,” he said.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who also attended the event, said the nation’s debt is also a major challenge to a strong national defense.

“You can’t have a strong economy and a strong defense if you continue to spend more than you have,” Antonovich said.

But sequester or no, Dempsey said it is important moving forward to continue examining strategy and technology in the military, as well as maintain a state of readiness.

“There’s hubris in the belief that war can be controlled,” he said. “War punishes hubris.”

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