Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge
About the Author

Merry, a native of Southern California, enlisted in the Air Force in 1982 as a Personnel Specialist. He was commissioned through AFROTC in 1989, earning his degree in Marketing from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff Arizona. He holds a master's degrees in Human Resources Management and Military Arts & Science.

After his commissioning, Merry returned to the Personnel career field and served at every level of the Air Force. He was the Career Field Manager for Personnel, Manpower and Services, and was selected as the Air Force's Chief of Compensation and member of the 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation. He has deployments to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other locations throughout the Middle East.

Merry is a graduate of Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama; and was the Senior Air Force Fellow at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California. At the time of his retirement he was the Commander of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations (AFMAO) responsible for DoD's sole Port Mortuary at Dover AFB, Delaware.

The state of our nation’s defense and the challenges for those who serve were the subject of discussion at a recent round-table event hosted by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. Present were several senior defense officials and key staff members, along with approximately 25 military and veteran service organizations. The exchange of ideas and concerns lasted just over three hours. The focus, understandably, centered on those serving in uniform — the ones who bear the brunt of the missions.

This idea was stated in the NDS Summary and also served as the theme of discussion for those at the round-table event. Worth noting from the summary are the three distinct lines of effort:

  • Rebuilding military readiness as we build a more lethal joint force.
  • Strengthening alliances as we attract new partners.
  • Reforming  DoD’s business practices for greater performance and affordability.

The emphasis on readiness should come as no surprise; it is a foundational attribute of the military competitive edge. Adding increased lethality, however, brings the readiness discussion to another level. Lethality brings into consideration issues like capable and deployable combat forces who engage enemies where they live, modernization of war-fighting equipment across all domains, and a funding process capable of sustaining momentum toward these objectives

Lethality is the difference between having a military and using a military. There are many militaries out there and some are getting better each year; some haven’t fought in years, and some fight every day. That our nation uses its military daily in contested lands is irrefutable.

If this is not already well known nation-wide, it needs to be. Under direction from elected and appointed leaders, our nation sends our men and women directly into harm’s way — and our nation collectively should shoulder the costs. Effecting the first line of effort to build a more lethal joint force needs to be a national priority, and this must include the necessary stream of appropriations.

We must do this for those who serve. Gen. Joe Dunford said it best in his testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee in April of 2016: “I don’t believe we should ever send Americans into a fair fight.”

Our ability to fight also can be enhanced by stronger alliances, which enable greater reach, more immediate responses, and regional familiarity. Quite frankly, stronger and more capable alliances give us partners who have a vested interest in the military outcomes and strategic implications for their continued sovereignty and prosperity. The commitment to the mutual mission and to each other is essential.

Our alliances with countries from Europe and the Pacific following World War II serve as examples of this commitment, successful efforts sealed with blood from mutual sacrifice in recent conflicts. Besides the shared losses, our allies provide their capital investments into the efforts. Of course, part of the challenge is to get them to where they can increase their investment so we can reduce ours.

As you can imagine, and as recently played out in the news, DoD is a significant recipient of our nation’s tax dollars: $700 billion for 2018 with sights on $716 billion for 2019, with no inkling of guarantees on that latter bid. This budget forecast for defense will test America’s will to put the required resources behind our military.

Secretary Mattis fully recognizes the need to address spending within his department, hence his third line of effort to reform business practices to prudently assure the warfighting end of their business gets what they need to sharpen the military’s competitive edge.

However, over the years, “reform” has become synonymous with “reduce.” As such, we remain guarded about where such reductions may take place. Fortunately, senior defense officials at the round-table event were quick to acknowledge the need to support our men and women in uniform…and their families; noting an all-too-familiar condition, “If we fail to take care of the families the Soldier walks…”

Taking into account the three lines of effort, punctuated by the need to reform or reduce, we must do our part to let Congress know our priorities: take care of the people who take care of the mission; take care of the families so their loved ones in uniform can take care of the mission; and remove arbitrary, politicized barriers to funding national defense.

Send your elected officials this MOAA suggested message to let them know how important it is to take care of those who serve.

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