FORT IRWIN • With the secretary of defense recommending cuts to the military's budget, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon and other members of the House Armed Services Committee spoke with soldiers, commanders and watched a brigade train at Fort Irwin Thursday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is proposing to slash $178 billion from the military's budget, said McKeon, who represents Barstow. McKeon and nine other committee members came to the National Training Center to make sure soldiers have the training they need despite the proposed cuts, he said.
McKeon, who became chair of the committee in December, toured Fort Irwin with ranking Democratic committee member Rep. Adam Smith of Washington's 9th District. Other members who toured the base include Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., and the newly elected Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.
"One thing I want to make sure is that in this environment where we're trying to cut everything, that we don't cut what the war-fighters need," McKeon said. "That includes all the training we've seen today. We've seen some excellent examples of training."
Accompanied by Brig. Gen. Robert Abrams, the congressional delegation viewed a briefing on how soldiers find and defuse improvised explosive devices. They watched as the soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, battled insurgents at Shar-e-Tiefort, a replica Afghan village. The committee members also ate from the same ready-to-eat meal packs that soldiers bring into the field.
Smith, who will introduce McKeon and the other committee members to Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base next week, said he was very impressed with the training the soldiers received Thursday. Despite the proposed budget cuts to military spending, Smith said he didn't think they would impact the National Training Center.
"We've got to make sure our troops are trained," he said. "We've got to make sure our troops are ready to go into battle, whether it's in Iraq or Afghanistan."
Sanchez, who represents Orange County and has been a committee member for 15 years, said she thinks training at Fort Irwin will soon change. She pointed out that by Dec. 31, 2011 the U.S.'s forces are supposed to be out of Iraq. The U.S. could also begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan as early as June, she said.
"The type of training we're now seeing cycling through here will be diminished," she said, adding that future conflicts could be in Pakistan or another part of the Asia. "What we do here will still be a needed asset. I hope cuts aren't very strong when it comes to this particular base."
During his visit Saturday, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, spoke with Fort Irwin command about the role the training center will play in the future. He said Fort Irwin could begin training soldiers for conflicts in areas outside Iraq and Afghanistan by August.
McKeon and the congressional delegation also visited Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale Thursday. The congressional delegation will visit the Marine Corp. Mountain Warfare Training Center near Bridgeport Friday.
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