OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Congress is back

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said before the recess that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) knows how much he wants to get the Defense authorization bill done before November.

That seems unlikely to occur, however, as Reid said Monday the Senate will have a “short and compact” schedule this fall, and Democrats don’t want to give the GOP an avenue to attack Obama on sequestration.

{mosads}If the bill, which has passed for 50 straight years, is thrown into the lame-duck session, it will be running up against the fiscal cliff deliberations that are tied to defense and sequestration.

And while Congress is not likely to be striking any deals on sequestration until after the election at the earliest, there will be some action on the issue this week.

The House is set to take up a bill from Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) that would require President Obama to submit his plan for replacing the sequestration cuts. That debate could occur as the White House issues its now-delayed, congressionally mandated report on how it would implement sequestration.

McKeon comments on Lackland criticized: A group that focuses on sexual assault in the military is criticizing House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) for his comments after visiting with top officials at Lackland Air Force base, which had been dealing with a widespread sex scandal involving basic training instructors and female trainees. Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish said McKeon’s statement that “only a ‘few people’ are responsible at Lackland minimizes the criminal scandal.”

“And his reasons for not opening a hearing and investigation about Lackland, because he received ‘assurances’ from top military commanders that they will do all they can so it doesn’t happen again — does not cut it,” she said in a statement.

McKeon told The Hill Sunday that he was confident the Lackland military investigators would clean up the problem at the base and find all the perpetrators of the sex scandal. So far, 17 instructors are under investigation, and one instructor was sentenced to 20 years in prison for rape and sexual assault.

Protect Our Defenders has criticized McKeon for not holding an open hearing or launching his own investigation over Lackland, but McKeon said Sunday that he would wait until the military had concluded its investigation so nothing was fouled up in the prosecutions.

Drawing the line on Iran: The White House on Monday downplayed the perceived rift between the United States and Israel on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

“This relationship has never been stronger,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “The level of support provided by this administration to Israel’s security needs has never been greater, and that will continue. And that has been attested to by Israel’s leaders, not just by those of us over here.”

His comments come after recent news reports depicted a heated confrontation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro on whether to issue new “red lines” on Iran’s nuclear program. Red lines are essentially U.S. or Israeli-imposed limits on how far Iran can go in terms of advancing their nuclear program. Should Iran cross any one of these red lines, it could trigger a military response.

Israel has repeatedly advocated for a preemptive military strike against Iran’s program, which many believe is geared toward building a nuclear weapon. Washington, on the other hand, has been a vocal advocate for a diplomatic solution to the Iran situation. For its part, Iran has continually claimed its enrichment program is designed strictly for peaceful means.

That said, Washington and Jerusalem conduct “regular consultations” on a whole host of security issues, according to Carney. On Iran’s nuclear work, both sides are clearly on the same page, he added. “There is no daylight between the United States and Israel when it comes to what we perceive to be happening in Iran with regards to its program,” Carney said.

Fanning the flames: It seems that DOD’s clean bill of health for the V-22 Osprey was not enough to quash growing local concerns over the hybrid airplane-helicopters’ looming deployment to the Pacific.

Mass protests sprung up in Okinawa over the weekend denouncing the Osprey’s pending arrival in the Pacific. More than 100,000 Okinawans came together on Sunday in opposition to the Pentagon’s decision to base 12 Ospreys on the island. Critics claim the aircraft’s spotty safety record, including a handful of high-profile accidents this year, will pose a danger to residents in the region.

However, DOD spokesman George Little reaffirmed the department’s belief that the Ospreys are safe to fly in Okinawa and anywhere else in the world. The planned Osprey deployment “will remain on track” despite growing concern over the aircraft in Japan and elsewhere.

In August, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta agreed to suspend air operations for the incoming V-22s until Tokyo was convinced they pose no threat to local populations. That same month, a Marine Corps investigation found an Osprey crash in April was not due to any malfunction with the aircraft. Two Marines were killed in that incident, when a V-22 crashed during a training mission in Morocco.

The findings of the Marine Corps inquiry were delivered to Tokyo shortly after service officials completed their investigation. An Air Force inquiry into a Osprey crash at Hurlburt Field in Florida is still under investigation.

DOD is ready for some football: The official kick-off to the NFL season this Sunday gave Americans across the country something to cheer about. Those cheers could get a little louder inside the Pentagon on Wednesday — that’s when NFL legend Herschel Walker will be making a stop at DOD, lending his star power to the issue of military suicides.

In August the former Heisman Trophy winner and all-pro running back for the Dallas Cowboys visited troops at Fort Bragg and Pope Field in North Carolina and Marines at Camp Lejune. During his visits, the NFL Hall of Famer used his personal experiences with mental illness as a way to try and erase the stigma surrounding mental health support in the military, according to local news reports. He will deliver that same message to the service men and women at the Pentagon on Thursday.

After winning the Heisman in 1982 while at the University of Georgia, Walker went on to play over a decade in the USFL and NFL, seeing stints with the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. But the record-setting running back is most famous for his two stints with the Dallas Cowboys. At the time of his retirement in 1997, Walker’s 18,000 all-purpose yards put him second among the NFL’s all time leaders in total yards.

President to visit Pentagon memorial for 9/11: President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will note the 9/11 anniversary at the Pentagon memorial on Tuesday for an observance ceremony. The Pentagon is also hosting a ceremony Tuesday afternoon in the courtyard where Panetta and other top officials will speak.


— Obama names Iraq ambassador

— Pentagon not to blame for report delay

— Review of ‘insider attacks’ is complete

— Defense firms divided on mass layoff notices

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