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Defense Department ‘Drastically Shifted Off Course,’ Rep. Mike Waltz Says



America is facing “the most serious and alarming recruiting and retention crisis that we’ve seen since Vietnam,” Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., said Thursday at a Heritage Foundation event focused on military readiness.

“Over the last couple of years, we have seen a fundamental shift in our military culture, in the military itself, and in the Defense Department’s priorities,” Waltz said at the Heritage event, titled “Restoring the Military’s Focus on Warfighting. “And to underscore that: Bottom line is rather than focusing on military readiness, on warfighting, and preparing our soldiers to hopefully deter the next war, but if necessary, fight and win it, the Defense Department … has drastically shifted off course.”

In October, The Heritage Foundation launched the National Independent Panel on Military Service and Readiness in response to what it called “all-time low recruitment in 2022,” announcing that the panel would “examine what, if any, impact the progressive social and environmental agenda has had on U.S. military readiness.” (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)

The military readiness panel, which is chaired by Waltz, released its final report Thursday.

“The Army, in particular, is losing divisions’ worth of soldiers that they’re not bringing in, and that trend wasn’t just a one-year COVID-related episode like we’re being told is the case. It’s continuing this year,” said Waltz, who is a member of the House’s Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

“That means it will likely continue to the next [year], because these are cumulative effects and if we don’t arrest this downward trend, I believe the volunteer military could become in the coming years at risk. And that would have all kinds of follow-on consequences.”

Participating in a panel discussion were Michael Berry, vice president of external affairs, director of military affairs, and senior counsel for First Liberty Institute; Jeremy Hunt, chairman of Veterans on Duty; and Rebeccah Heinrichs, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Also members but not present for the event are Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert D. Bishop Jr., chairman of the board of Stand Together Against Racism and Radicalism in the Services; retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, former national security adviser and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution; and Morgan Ortagus, founder of Polaris National Security and a former State Department spokeswoman.

Waltz also harshly criticized the military’s attention to climate change and preferred personal pronouns as examples of its politicization.

“In addition to that, our military has become hyperfocused, to its detriment in my view, on climate initiatives and on other initiatives such as preferred pronouns and eco-friendly tanks, rather than lethality, rather than putting bullets and bombs on enemy soldiers and making them believe that we have the full capability [and] intent to do so,” Waltz said. “That demonstration of strength is how we keep the peace.”

Waltz added:

According to the poll carried out by Heritage, 7 in 10 active military members, 68%, have witnessed some or [a] significant level of politicization within the military, and just as many are gravely concerned about it.

This is the real kicker: Just that many are saying because of that, because of the politicizing of our military, they would recommend that their children not join.

Recommendations put forth by Heritage’s military readiness panel include:

—Eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion (known as DEI) from the Defense Department.

—Redirect politicized efforts to combat extremism toward improving readiness.

—Establish standards for the Defense Department and the various services based on readiness.

—Prioritize security and defense over combatting climate change.

“The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place, and defense leaders need to remember that at its core the United States armed forces have one mission: to protect our nation from foreign enemies,” Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts said in a written statement, adding:

While the Biden administration pursues a politicized ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ experiment, the National Independent Panel on Military Service and Readiness has focused on recommending actionable steps to solve our government-created military recruitment and readiness crises. Now is the time for patriots to step up and restore our military’s warrior ethos and readiness, not to be distracted by the political agenda of bureaucratic elites.

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.

WATCH THE EVENT: