Senator Wicker says military has been "cut to the bone"

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Sen. Roger Wicker touched on all things military, including the possible move of 10 C-130J aircraft from Keesler Air Force Base.

"I've been concerned that we protect the flying mission of Keesler Air Force Base. After all, if it's the best Air Force base in the United States of America, we need to protect their flying mission," said Wicker.

There was good news about Ingalls. Senate and house committees have approved funding for an additional LPD assault ship, according to Wicker.

"The next step is to get these bills passed, and then the amphibious ships have to be funded, so that will be an appropriations matter," said Wicker.

Wicker thinks pulling troops out of Afghanistan is happening too fast.

"That is my fear that Afghanistan will fall right back into chaos," Wicker said.

Sequestration and downsizing has hit the military hard, and Wicker wants to end that.

"There are ways we can make savings there. We need to be efficient in every department, but we have cut our military to the bone," said Wicker.

Military officials in attendance know there's a new reality to face. That includes the commander of the Seabee Base in Gulfport, Capt. Paul Odenthal.

"These are definitely difficult times for our nation financially, and the military is part of our national discussion. We need to look at ways to reduce our costs and be more efficient and effective while still getting the job done that our nation expects," Odenthal explained.

During most of his speech, Wicker addressed the nuts and bolts of military spending, the forced cutbacks, the downsizing of the military, but he also addresses something that he finds much more disturbing.

"We have evidence that more than 470 service members took their lives last year. We had more than that the year before, in 2012," Wicker said.

He promised to push for more funding for better mental health treatment for military personnel, saying he wants to stop the rise in military suicides.

Wicker also announced on Thursday that the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah James, will be touring Keesler Air Force Base on Friday. That tour will be hosted by Wicker, Sen. Thad Cochran and Rep. Steven Palazzo.

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