JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Jessica L. Garfola Wright, completed the first day of a two-day visit to Joint Base Charleston, S.C. Aug. 22, 2014, to witness joint basing in action and observe the active duty and Reserve missions.
Wright is the senior policy advisor to the Secretary of Defense on recruitment, career development, pay and benefits for 1.4 million active-duty military personnel, 1.1 million Guard and Reserve personnel, 748,000 Department of Defense civilians, and is responsible for overseeing the overall state of military readiness.
Wright began her day with a mission briefing highlighting the more than 60 DOD agencies comprising JB Charleston, and featuring leaders from the Navy, Army and Air Force; active duty and Reserve - a first look at the diversity she would see throughout her visit.
Following the briefing, Wright learned about the C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlift mission at the Air Base, a mission shared by both active-duty and Reserve Airmen, before beginning an immersion tour of the 17,000-acre Weapons Station.
After lunch with a group of 20 students from the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command at the Naval Weapons Station galley, Wright conducted a Navy 'All Hands' call at the Bowman Center on the NNPTC campus and answered questions from among the 500 Sailors in attendance.
Wright prefaced her remarks and encouraged Sailors to ask questions by stating, "After 35 years serving in uniform, I understand what it's like to grow up in our system and I understand that change is difficult."
Possible changes to areas like health care, retirement systems, housing allowances and commissaries formed the subject of many of the questions Sailors asked Wright. Wright specifically addressed the issue of tobacco use to demonstrate some of the challenges facing the military.
"Tobacco related illnesses cost the DOD more than $1 billion a year, so we have to decide how to address this issue," she said. "We have found that many of our young service members begin to smoke after joining the military. Why is that, and how do we fix it? Do we quit selling tobacco products at the Exchanges? What about overseas where cigarettes and tobacco products may be unregulated and service members would have to buy these items on the local economy? This is just one of the issues the 32,000 people in my office explore every day."
The bottom line according to Wright is that although various proposals are being explored, Congress has made very few changes to existing benefits.
Wright also had high praise for the men and women of JB Charleston and the mission they accomplish every day.
"We have found that where joint basing works, it can be a very effective. Have there been some hick-ups along the way? Sure, but the JB Charleston leadership is committed to the mission and making JB Charleston a great place to live and work," Wright said.
While at the Weapons Station, Wright also visited the Navy Consolidated Brig Charleston, Naval Health Clinic Charleston and the Naval Weapons Station Library.
Wright will spend the 23rd touring several 315th Airlift Wing units and speaking with reservists during an Air Force 'All Call.'
Wright assumed her responsibilities as Under Secretary Jan. 1, 2013 and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate June 25, 2014. She is also a retired major general in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Prior to this assignment, she served as the deputy The Adjutant General for the Army.