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Kraham: Inevitable military budget cuts must be specific, calculated to honor service members

This Thanksgiving and holiday season, Americans will relax, break bread and spend time with family and friends. It’s also a chance to reflect and remember what we are thankful for.

At the top our lists are the military service members serving at home and abroad — courageous men and women who defend our freedoms at great sacrifice. These soldiers have dedicated their lives to our country’s cause, and work far away from loved ones who miss them dearly.

Away from the dinner table and back in Washington, D.C., lawmakers face tough decisions about the future of defense spending that affects these soldiers. To control our budget deficits, reductions in military spending are obligatory. Those cuts, however, must be specific and calculated. Cuts should not hurt the service members risking their lives on the battlefield or devalue our armed forces’ extraordinary reputation around the world.

First off, lawmakers must shrug criticism from those who say cutting defense spending will make our country weaker and threaten national security. Curbing defense spending is in the spirit of balanced budgets, fiscal responsibility — both important conservative principles — and preparing the U.S. for another century of global military leadership. But balancing the budget does not mean lopping off $1.2 trillion with the blunt knife of sequestration.

Ending military involvement in Afghanistan in 2014 will remove operational costs of fighting a war on foreign soil, which costs taxpayers some $2.5 billion per week. The sooner the better, really, as is relying more on unmanned spy and combat drones that are cheap and keep Americans out of harm’s way.

There are, however, military departments where cuts should not be made. The Pentagon should expand ROTC scholarships and training opportunities for young men and women. College campuses are unique settings to recruit the brightest minds in science, technology and engineering into our nation’s oldest form of public service. Highly educated and highly trained soldiers will make for a more sophisticated military and allow an easier transition for veterans entering the workforce.

Also, caring for our nation’s heroes is America’s most important moral duty.

Combat veterans dealing with physical injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, deserve the absolute best medical care. Today, more soldiers commit suicide than die in combat. It’s an embarrassing and heartbreaking statistic our military leaders need to address.

Our military budget should shift the funds that are fueling Humvees to foundations that build world-class support services for military members and their families. Like never before, America is understanding wartime’s emotional toll and the need for continued assistance well after the last platoon leaves the battlefield.

These services are costly, but pale in comparison to the relentless sacrifice from those in uniform. Righting America’s fiscal path should not be on the backs of the millions who serve.

So if political debates with extended family members spin out of control this holiday season, take a moment to reflect on what really matters in these budget deliberations. We must value people over procedure and only cut military spending in areas that don’t affect our brave men and women.

Those soldiers and their families will surely be thankful this holiday season.

Jared Kraham is a senior political science and broadcast journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jmkraham@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @JaredKraham.

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