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FEATURE ARTICLE  

Armed Services Freshmen Gun for More Defense Dollars 

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by Elizabeth Book 

All seven freshman members of the House Armed Services Committee in the 107th Congress agreed that their prime motivation is to represent their constituents by being strong supporters of the military.

“I believe the number-one priority of the federal government is to protect American lives,” said Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla.

Crenshaw sits on the committee along with fellow freshmen Reps. Susan Davis, D-Calif., Rob Simmons, R-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., Ed Schrock, R-Va., Todd Akin, R-Mo. and James Langevin, D-R.I.

They all come from states that have a heavy military presence.

Also relatively new to the committee is second-term Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., who became a member of the committee last September following the death of Virginia Republican Rep. Herbert Bateman. In January 2001, Wilson relinquished her seat on the Select Committee on Intelligence to devote more time to the Armed Services Committee.

Crenshaw, Simmons, Schrock, Jo Ann Davis, Susan Davis and Langevin hope that their previous experience in government will assist them in their work on the Armed Services Committee. Crenshaw, Simmons, Schrock, Jo Ann Davis and Susan Davis were members of their state legislatures, while Langevin was Rhode Island’s secretary of state. Crenshaw also served in the Florida State Senate and was president of the State Senate from 1992-1993, while he was involved with the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.

Military Background
Five of the new members of the House Armed Services panel have extensive military backgrounds. Mark Kirk, of Illinois, holds the rank of Navy lieutenant commander in a naval reserve officer aviator unit called the Star Warriors, which flies the EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft, based at Andrews Air Force Base.

In December 2000, just after he had been elected to Congress, Kirk was called back to reserve duty to patrol the no-fly zone in Northern Iraq, as part of Operation Northern Watch. Kirk also was called to combat in Yugoslavia, during Operation Allied Force in 1999, and served as the Joint Chiefs of Staffs’ senior force analyst during Operation Sharp Guard over Bosnia in 1995. He served as an analyst at the office of the chief of naval operations during Operation Support Democracy in Haiti in 1994.

He completed three tours of duty aboard the USS Stennis, four tours of duty supporting counter-narcotics operations in Panama, and worked at the Office of Naval Intelligence during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

When he took office in January 2001, Kirk changed his naval reserve status to non-drilling reservist. According to Navy Capt. Clay Fearnow, one of his commanders at Andrews Air Force Base, Kirk’s performance was commendable. “He is highly trained and is extremely well-versed.”

Kirk’s previous work experience extends to congressional affairs. He was chief of staff to Rep. John Porter, R-Ill., whom he replaced this past January. As a lawyer who graduated with honors from Cornell University and Georgetown University Law Center, Kirk also was on the legislative staff of the House International Relations Committee. He worked for Chairman Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., drafting legislation on foreign aid, the capture of war criminals, the global AIDS program and the expansion of the Peace Corps. He traveled around the world with the International Relations Committee, coordinating visits to 42 countries, including Bosnia, Kosovo and North Korea.

Kirk’s district encompasses the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, and through the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, Kirk said he was proud that, “the Navy has chosen to train the entire fleet in my congressional district.”

Heather Wilson, from New Mexico, is a 1982 graduate of the Air Force Academy and a Rhodes Scholar. She spent her time in the Air Force with NATO allies in the United Kingdom. She earned post-graduate degrees in international relations at Oxford University. She left military service in 1989, at the rank of captain, and became director of European defense policy and arms control on the National Security Council staff at the first Bush White House.

She has been a member of Congress since June 1998, when she won a special election to replace the late Rep. Steven Schiff. In addition to Armed Services, she serves on the Commerce Committee.

Virginia’s Ed Schrock was a naval officer for almost 25 years, retiring as a captain.

Schrock’s military service included two tours of duty in Vietnam. His district encompasses the Norfolk Navy base, the largest naval installation in the world. He said he would focus his work in Congress on military readiness and personnel issues. One of Schrock’s goals during his first year in office is to bring the entire freshman class of the House of Representatives out to a carrier, to interact with the crew and stay overnight.

“We, as congressmen, need to go out to the fields, do site visits. I want them to see young troops, see how young they are, and then they will have a greater understanding of what it is to serve,” he said.

Todd Akin, from Missouri, was a member of ROTC as an undergraduate student and later served as an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers. His oldest son is a student at the U.S. Naval Academy, so “obviously I hear stories from him on what’s going on,” he said.

“We need to be supportive of our armed services,” he said. Akin believes that this Congress will seek to improve military readiness and technical competence of the force. He sits on the Armed Services subcommittees on military personnel and research and development.

Rob Simmons, of Connecticut, is a decorated Vietnam veteran. Simmons enlisted in the Army in 1965 and worked as a cook. “I decided I might have better luck if I did the infantry OCS program,” he said. Simmons graduated from Infantry Officer Candidate School in 1967 and was sent to Vietnam to serve in a military intelligence unit. He earned two Bronze Star medals in Vietnam and then joined the CIA. Simmons served five of his 10 years with the CIA as an operations officer, advising the South Vietnamese on spy operations.

There were two close calls during his time in Vietnam: He survived a helicopter accident in the Mekong Delta when he was in the Army and also survived an assassination attempt while assisting the South Vietnamese Special Police in developing interrogation techniques. Simmons earned the CIA’s highest civilian service award, the CIA Seal Medallion.

When he retired from the CIA, Simmons became a staff member for Sen. John Chaffee, R-R.I., serving as a legislative assistant on military and intelligence issues. He later became staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence under the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz. Simmons has remained in the Army Reserve, where he holds the rank of colonel. He is the past commander of the 434th military intelligence detachment in New Haven, Conn. In 1996, under his command, the unit was recognized with the Reserve Officers Association’s Outstanding Reserve Small Unit Award.

Misrepresentations
Some say Simmons may have won the election to Congress as a result of misrepresentations made by the opposing candidate’s staff about Simmons’ military record.

Less than a week before the November 7 election, news media reported that the staff of then Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., was circulating a story to the press accusing Simmons of war crimes in Vietnam. Many Connecticut citizens lashed out at the papers for running the story, citing Simmons as an American hero. At the next scheduled debate, Gejdenson, a 10-term incumbent who had been strongly favored to win, announced that he had fired the two staff members accused of circulating the unsubstantiated allegations, and he publicly apologized.

Simmons won the election by the closest of margins, about 2,000 votes, with 51 percent of the vote.

California’s Susan Davis also defeated an entrenched incumbent on her path to Congress. Davis replaced Republican Brian Bilbray, to represent the San Diego area. Davis’ district includes 80 military installations, approximately 25 percent of the Pacific Fleet. Though Davis did not serve in the military, her husband was an Air Force physician specializing in psychiatry, and Davis accompanied him on a tour of duty at Tachikawa Air Force Base in Japan from 1970-1972.

She believes her experiences living on a military installation abroad with young children during the Vietnam War has helped her prepare for work on Armed Services. “I think the Armed Services Committee is a great fit for me and the district. Going to Japan, I had to leave extended family, and there was no quality childcare. I was completely on my own. The issues I had to deal with as a spouse are the same that many spouses, not just wives, in San Diego have.”

James Langevin, from Rhode Island, was injured as an explorer scout at a police station and has since been a quadriplegic, with limited use of his upper body. Because he was injured at the age of 16, he did not have the opportunity to serve in the military, but “I have always had a strong interest in military and defense issues, and they are very important in the district I represent,” he said.

Rhode Island is home to the Naval War College and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. Defense industry powerhouses in that state include General Dynamics, Raytheon and Textron facilities, which are “critical to the financial well-being of Rhode Island, in terms of jobs and economic growth.” Langevin, who resigned his post as secretary of state of Rhode Island to accept his seat in Congress, said, “We must assure that we keep these facilities vibrant.”

One of Langevin’s priorities will be to increase pay for men and women in uniform, which is why he requested a seat on the military personnel subcommittee of the Armed Services committee. “I find it outrageous and completely unacceptable that our armed forces personnel are sometimes forced to go on food stamps,” Langevin said.

Jo Ann Davis, of Virginia, sought a seat on the Armed Services Committee because “it is an absolute necessity for my district, which houses Langley Air Force Base.”

Davis replaced the late Herbert Bateman to represent Hampton Roads, where many military retirees have settled. Before her move to public service, Davis was a founder of the International Military Relocation Center, a firm that specializes in relocating U.S. military families around the world.

Davis made the issue of rebuilding the nation’s military a top priority in her successful campaign to Congress. She said, “My assignment to the House Armed Services Committee is a major step toward securing the vast military interests of our district.” Davis noted that her district did not fare well during the Clinton administration. However, she said, “Our goal must be more than just repairing the damage inflicted by eight years of neglect under the Clinton-Gore administration. We must reform our national defense to adjust to changing obstacles and challenges that await us in the new century.”

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