While the congressional testimony of former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen drew all the headlines last week, two other hearings had local military ties.
First was the Senate hearing featuring U.S. Northern Command boss Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, who told lawmakers his biggest fears surround the Pentagon’s 2020 budget and downplayed threats along the Mexican border.
O’Shaughnessy wants lawmakers to stave off Obama-era automatic budget cuts that could carve $50 billion from Defense Department coffers.
The “sequestration” cuts were put on hold in recent years, but that pause is expiring unless Congress moves to stop them.
“A return to sequestration will devastate total force readiness and delay or terminate modernization efforts that are necessary to maintaining our strategic and technological advantage,” O’Shaughnessy told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But in terms of threats, the general is looking north and west rather than south, citing rivals Russia and China as his biggest concerns. He declined to voice full-throated support for President Trump’s emergency declaration to push a wall along the Mexican border.
“The threats to our nation from our Southern border are not military in nature, but they are significant and deadly,” he told lawmakers.
Northern Command is running the Pentagon’s mission to support law enforcement along the border, offering logistics and engineering help for the Border Patrol.
“Employing military personnel, unique technologies, and specialized skill sets developed in contingency operations overseas, (the command’s border contingent) provides critical support to federal law enforcement interdiction missions operations,” O’Shaughnessy said.
O’Shaughnessy spent considerable time outlining threats that could strike the continent’s Northern reaches.
Part of the commander’s concern is that climate change is making sea traffic in the Arctic easier thanks to receding polar ice. While the White House has disputed the threats posed by climate change, the Pentagon has continued to embrace climatic shifts as a key military concern.
“It has become clear that defense of the homeland depends on our ability to detect and defeat threats operating both in the Arctic and passing through the Arctic,” the general said. “Russia’s fielding of advanced, long-range cruise missiles capable of flying through the northern approaches and striking targets in the United States and Canada has emerged as the dominant military threat in the Arctic, while diminished sea ice and the potential for competition over resources present overlapping challenges in this strategically significant region.”
O’Shaughnessy’s testimony last week came before another panel hearing with local ties.
Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King, the first openly transgender solder assigned to Fort Carson, was a key witness before a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday on Trump administration moves to ban transgender troops from the ranks.
King, who now serves at Fort Lewis, Wash., came out to her commanders in 2015 as the Obama administration pondered lifting a ban on transgender service.
King told the panel that soldiers are more worried about whether their comrades can shoot straight than their gender identities.
“It didn’t take long before my peers saw past my gender and the only thing that mattered was how well I could do my job,” King testified. “From the get-go, none of that mattered to the soldiers in my squad. Most of them are 21 years old or younger. People in Generation Z aren’t worried about trans people.”
King, who earned the Bronze Star Medal in Afghanistan, has been held up as an example by Democrats who oppose the administration’s push to reinstate the transgender ban.
Trump reinstated the ban with a statement on Twitter, taking the Pentagon by surprise.
Since then, the ban has been the subject of repeated court battles.
So far, the ban has been held up by court injunctions, allowing soldiers like King to continue their service.
A squad leader in an infantry unit, King says her young comrades aren’t calling for a transgender ban.
“Much like their iPhones and Facebook, they grew up with people like me in their lives,” King said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx