By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2013 – If confirmed as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Jessica L. Wright told Congress today, she will continue to advocate for the Defense Department’s No. 1 asset, its people, as the military deals with budget challenges and new operational requirements.
“It is evident to me that our people and those that support them are the department’s greatest assets and our strength,” she told the Senate Armed Services Committee during her confirmation hearing.
Wright, a retired Pennsylvania Army National Guard major general, has served as acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness since Jan. 1. She previously served as assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.
Testifying today, she attributed her 35 years in uniform and her family’s long tradition of military service with giving her unique insights into the challenges military members and their families face every day.
Wright called her late father, John Garfola — a combat medic during World War II who was buried just this week — her hero and role model for her family. In addition, her husband, Chuck, is a retired Army officer, and her son, Mike, is an Army lieutenant deployed to Afghanistan.
“The department has two sacred obligations. One is to care for its people who are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to protect the national interest. And the second is to ensure the national security of the United States,” Wright told the committee. “I bring a special understanding to both obligations.”
This understanding, she said, will guide her as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s senior policy advisor on recruitment, career development, pay and benefits for 1.4 million active duty military personnel, 1.3 million Guard and Reserve personnel, 680,000 DOD civilians, and in overseeing the overall state of military readiness.
“I fully acknowledge that there are many challenges facing the department,” particularly the constrained fiscal climate, she said. But in confronting them, she promised to remain a staunch advocate for service members and their families, whose sense of duty drives them to “selflessly put the interest of our nation first.”
By doing so, she told the panel, they have made the U.S. military one of the most trusted institutions in society, and ensured the continued success of the all-volunteer force.
Wright said she will support Hagel’s commitments to the force and to ensuring it remains an agile, capable force for the future. That involves addressing what she called one of the most significant challenges facing it: stress resulting from more than a decade of deployments and high-tempo operational requirements.
“Although our service members never hesitate to answer the nation’s call, this call causes the toughest challenges on the battlefield and here at home,” she said. “Our service members and their families are under significant strain. Their minds, their bodies, their spirits require healing.”
Wright said she will ensure, if confirmed, that the department’s efforts to care for its people continue.
The security environment those people will be called upon to face in the future will be characterized by shifting operational requirements abroad, evolving threats to national security and continued budget challenges, Wright said.
“If confirmed, I would be vigilant and ensure the department provides the leadership in vision necessary to rebalance, adapt and evolve the all-volunteer force as it has done so well over the last 40 years,” she said. “I’m also committed to ensuring that we maintain the military’s status as the strongest, most capable, most respected fighting force in the history of the world.”
Also testifying at today’s hearing was Deborah Lee James, nominated to be the next Air Force secretary, and Marcel J. Lettre II, the nominee as principal deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Kevin A. Ohlson, nominated as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.