Armed Services chairman compares number of troops killed in accidents to Vegas shooting victims

Armed Services chairman compares number of troops killed in accidents to Vegas shooting victims
© Greg Nash

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) on Thursday compared the number of troops killed in training accidents this year to the number of people killed in this week’s Las Vegas mass shooting to argue for an increase in military spending.

“It’s alarming to me these trends. … We have, give or take five, we have lost as many service members in 2017 to accidents as were killed in Las Vegas, just for some perspective, and many more that have been killed in combat,” Thornberry told reporters at a breakfast roundtable at the Heritage Foundation, a comparison he repeated in his public keynote at the conservative think tank.

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Fifty-eight people were killed Sunday when a gunman opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

In the military, there have been a slew of high-profile accidents this year.

Over the summer, 17 sailors were killed in two ship collisions, while 16 Marines were killed in an aircraft crash. In total, 57 troops have been killed in accidents this year.

Thornberry was among a handful of defense hawks to vote against a stopgap spending measure last month despite its inclusion of Hurricane Harvey relief money that benefits his state.

Thornberry had hoped the continuing resolution would include so-called anomalies to allow the Pentagon to spend more money. But the spending deal was cut so quickly that the extra Pentagon money was left out, he said Thursday.

With more disaster relief bills likely headed to Congress, Thornberry said he has asked the Pentagon to request that more money for defense be included.

In particular, Thornberry wants more money for missile defense because, he said, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “is not waiting until December” to work on his missile program.

“I didn’t hint. I told them,” he said of his request to the Pentagon. “Get your act together, and if you have a pressing need that you can get a head start on between now and December, get it up to us.”

It’s possible Congress could act to bump defense spending in disaster bills without an official Pentagon request, but Thornberry said that “practically speaking” the request needs to happen.

“This is urgent,” he said. “Time is slipping away, and we can’t wait until December, in my view, to start making up for shortfalls in maintenance and missile defense.”

Thornberry was speaking to reporters ahead of the Heritage Foundation’s unveiling of its fourth annual “Index of U.S. Military Strength.”

This year’s 400-plus-page index found that overall U.S. military power is “marginal” but trending on “weak,” meaning that the military would be able to fight one major regional conflict but “certainly would be ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous major regional contingencies.” 

Broken down into separate services, the Army was labeled weak, the Navy marginal, the Air Force marginal and the Marines weak. Nuclear capabilities were also rated marginal.