National Security Commission tackles issues facing the military and country

National Security Commission tackles issues facing the military and country

When American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford addressed the National Security Commission on March 9 at the 60th annual Washington Conference, his message was simple: what you are doing is important.

“This information you are receiving today is inspiring, because when we think about who we are and what we do, National Security is one of our primary pillars,” he told the nearly 200 members of the Legion Family in attendance. “I hope you realize the value of the contributions that you all are making to The American Legion and to this country.”

National Security Commission Chairman Steve Brennan of Maryland opened the commission meeting by welcoming representatives from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), which partnered with the Legion's commission on a round table discussion titled “Keeping America Safe: Strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense.” USGLC is located in the national capital region and advocates for a strong international affairs budget and programs as a keystone of foreign policy.

Sean Sorbie, director of veterans outreach for USGLC, moderated the panel that featured retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Richard Hawley and Craig Wolf, general counsel for the U.S. Aid for International Development. Wolf is an Army colonel serving in a civil affairs unit.

Noting a discrepancy between what is actually spent on the international budget and what Americans think is spent, Sorbie stated that the United States is currently facing a myriad of threats from terrorism to pandemics, and that these could not be solved by the military alone, but would require diplomacy and development to adequately address such challenges.

Hawley opined that, “I can’t imagine how bad things could get” if the United States diminished and retreated on the global scene. “In almost every case where we end up with problems, it was because we didn’t adequately invest in diplomacy and development assistance. I think Vietnam is the perfect case. We didn’t know what we were getting into, we didn’t know what the situation was on the ground, and we didn’t understand the politics of the region,” continued the Vietnam War fighter pilot noting similarities to the Korean War and later Afghanistan. Hawley lamented that post World War II, we retreated and thought we would just bring everyone home.

Wolf largely agreed with Hawley’s dim assessment of political and developmental withdrawal, noting that one of the great successes of the post-World War II timeframe was the Marshall Plan.

“The Marshall Plan showed what we are capable of doing if we invest and take care of diplomacy and development in the right way," Wolf said. "I look at the Marshall Plan as the prime example of what we can and are capable of when we put our minds to it, and our resources to it.”

The National Security Commission also heard from Lt. Gen. Karen H. Gibson, an American Legion Auxiliary Girls State alumni from Montana who discussed her 30 years in service. Brennan too announced that Gibson became a new member of The American Legion.

“I admire, applaud and appreciate the great work that The American Legion does for our veteran community and for the men and women who serve in uniform today whether active, Guard or reserve; their families and communities; and for the assistance you provide at VA facilities,” she said.

The National Security Commission is also tasked with spearheading efforts on the recovery of prisoners of war (POWs) and those missing in action (MIA). The American Legion has been long committed to achieving a full accounting of all POW/MIAs from all war eras. This means returning living POWs, the repatriation of their remains, or finding convincing evidence why neither of these is possible. Two speakers at the meeting addressed this issue of vital importance.

Fern Sumpter Winbush, principal deputy director for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and a life member of the Legion, thanked The American Legion for aiding her organization in this mission.

Winbush has served at the DPAA since 2015, and was proud of the success they have had in recent years in identifying the remains of our MIAs.

"I want to thank The American Legion for your steadfast support, especially your continued march on the Hill to ensure that DPAA is fully funded every year," Winbush said. "We could not do what we do every single day without organizations like you that will stand up and fight.

“Last year we were very, very, very fortunate and grateful to account for 217 (POW/MIAs), which is our largest number to date.”

Ann Mills Griffiths, chairman of the Board for the National League of POW/MIA Families, was grateful for all the hard work of the DPAA and the Legion. She noted that while the vast majority of the 217 repatriated and identified servicemembers were from recovery operations that took place at Pearl Harbor, she is hopeful that the past successes would be built upon.

“None of the work of the DPAA and what others are doing would have gone on but for the strong support of the veterans organizations in our country," Griffiths said. “I’m very grateful for you, and you should be proud of yourselves.”

The last presentation of the day came from Donald Benton, director of the Selective Service System (SSS). After briefly noting some of the successes that the agency has had in recent years, Benton noted some of the challenges that they have faced as well, for example when recently a myth was born on social media that the draft was being re-instituted for a prospective war with Iran.

“In less than 12 hours after the strike on Iranian Gen. Soleimani, various social media stories began to emerge. False reports had a field day,” Benton said. “These false stories were tweeted and retweeted, Instagram and Facebook … at an exponential rate.” Traffic to the SSS website was so sudden and massive it briefly slowed the system down to the point that people thought the website was down, compounding the myths just as they were accelerating across the internet. Benton noted that a draft was never discussed by any actual individuals that would play a role in determining whether one would be needed.

Additionally, the SSS is awaiting the results of two lawsuits regarding the constitutionality of only registering males.

“Until we are directed by the Supreme Court of the United States, or by congressional legislation, Selective Service Registration will remain male only,” Benton said.

Benton added that “the voice of the Legion remains a critical conduit for getting this job done. I’m keenly aware that the Legion’s support of veterans of the armed forces compliments my agency’s efforts to find and provide needed manpower to our military in the event of a national emergency."

Before turning to regular business of the National Security Commission, Chairman Brennan thanked the speakers and noted that based on the presentations, the commission had some resolutions that needed to be drafted and discussed.