Every single day, we enjoy freedoms and privileges made possible by the selflessness and sacrifice of brave men and women in uniform. As Americans, we treasure the rights that set our country apart from the rest of the world. They are guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but for more than 240 years, they have been protected by the brave men and women of our armed forces.
Ohio has more than 850,000 veterans and tens of thousands of active duty, reserve, and National Guard troops, and we appreciate all of them. As the son of a World War II veteran and the grandson of a World War I veteran, I learned early on the importance of duty, patriotism and respect for our military.
One of my highest priorities in the U.S. Senate is to ensure that our troops have the equipment and cutting-edge technology they need to carry out their critical missions.
Fortunately, the U.S. Senate recently passed legislation that does just that. The defense authorization bill is a commitment to restore our military strength by targeted increases in funding.
Lima plays an important part in improving the readiness of our soldiers with the latest in weapons and technology. The defense legislation includes additional resources for one of the most important defense facilities and the only place in America where tanks are made: Lima’s Joint Systems Manufacturing Center (JSMC).
The legislation includes $1.53 billion in 2019 for JSMC to upgrade 135 Abrams tanks. That new funding will ensure that more than 10 tanks per month will be produced in Lima for our soldiers. When combined with the important work being done to support our allies, the workers at JSMC will soon be producing more than 30 tanks per month.
This is a huge improvement from the Obama administration, when it attempted to mothball the Lima plant and stop the production of tanks. There was a miscalculation that we could somehow shut down the plant and the supporting industrial base and easily turn it back on when we needed modern tanks for our soldiers. Knowing this was a recipe for failure, some of us in Congress fought back and kept the tank production line going.
Unfortunately, because of budget cuts in the last administration, we got down to only enough funding for one tank per month. When the Army called for ramping up production, workers at JSMC and at all the parts suppliers throughout Ohio and the country were ready to answer the call. Now the Lima plant and the skilled and patriotic workforce there is back.
The Lima JSMC workforce also produces another important vehicle for our soldiers: the Stryker. This workhorse of the Army also needs modernization to meet new threats and challenges.
After hearing from our forward-deployed soldiers in Europe three years ago about their needs, I led efforts in Congress to get the funding to produce new Stryker vehicles with an upgraded weapon system. We got that funding, and the workers at JSMC got to work. Last year, I met with the team building those vehicles in Lima, and this spring I saw firsthand these same Stryker vehicles newly arrived in Germany. It was great to hear directly from our forward-deployed soldiers about how much they value JSMC’s impressive product. These more lethal and effective vehicles help protect our troops and send an important message to our European allies about our commitment to the region in the face of an increasingly aggressive Russia.
This year, I urged the Senate Armed Services Committee to meet our soldiers’ need for more Stryker vehicles with upgraded survivability and mobility enhancements. With that new funding, I look forward to ensuring this program moves forward at an increased pace to get these vehicles to our soldiers deployed around the world.
America remains a shining city on a hill and a beacon of democracy and freedom because of the bravery of the men and women of our armed forces. We owe them the best equipment and technology to conduct their critical mission in a dangerous world. With the passage of this new defense funding, the highly skilled and patriotic workers in Lima will be able to do more to help our troops keep the peace and protect all of us.
Rob Portman, of Cincinnati, has been a U.S. Senator from Ohio since 2010. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.