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US Sen. Tammy Duckworth says improving health and education in the US would lead to a stronger military

Tammy Duckworth, the assistant secretary of public and intergovernmental affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs, speaks at the 2009 National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Training Workshop Oct. 27, 2009, in Landsdowne, Va. (Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy/U.S. Army)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Wednesday called for a “holistic” approach to national security, saying that dealing with domestic issues to improve education, health care and infrastructure will help the nation’s military preparedness.

“We can’t just keep throwing together huge defense budgets every year and thinking that’s enough,” the Democratic senator told an audience at the City Club of Chicago.

“Instead, we need to balance investing in our weaponry with investing in our citizenry, rejecting the false choice between looking out for our troops overseas and caring for our families at home. It’s not an either-or. It’s both-and,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth said only 29 percent of Americans between age 17 and 24 were deemed fit to serve, according to a Pentagon study. The remaining 71 percent lacked a basic education, could not pass a physical or are barred from enlisting because of drugs or other issues.

“So I’m not pushing for better health care or more funding for our schools just because it’s the right thing to do or because I’m some left progressive,” Duckworth said.

The Iraq War veteran said the nation is using an outdated assumption that measures the might of the military by the “size of our arsenal.”

“And in doing so, we’ve made the flawed assumption that our decades of dominance on the global stage can predict our future place in the world,” she said. “But ISIS doesn’t care that we stormed the beaches of Normandy. Russia isn’t giving us points because once upon a time we outraced them to the moon. China doesn’t give a damn what we did during Desert Storm.”

Duckworth, the state’s junior senator, said rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure “is critical to our national success” and an issue that Republicans and Democrats can agree upon despite partisan divides.

“I’ll keep working across the aisle to hold (President Donald) Trump to his still unkept campaign promise to push forward a comprehensive infrastructure plan,” she said.

Duckworth, however, said Congress should no longer shirk its duty of deciding when to authorize putting troops into combat through an authorization for the use of military force resolution.

Duckworth cited troops who have gone through as many as nine deployments and “wake up every morning knowing that by week’s end, they could be sent back to Iraq — or even Iran, as the Trump administration continues to manufacture a crisis that’s led us to the brink of disaster.”

“Enough,” she said. “Enough of Congress being so worried about political consequences that we don’t do our jobs — even as we expect our troops to do theirs every damn day.”


© 2019 the Chicago Tribune