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Veterans discuss the uncertain future of U.S. defense spending

A panel of U.S. veterans and ASU professors discussed the future of America’s defense spending in the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus Tuesday night.

Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, who spent 36 years in the U.S. Army and serves as special advisor to ASU President Michael Crow for leadership initiatives, said the U.S.’s deficit spending threatens the country’s national security.

“Without a strong economy, we don’t have a strong diplomacy, and without strong diplomacy, we have to use our military more,” Freakley said. “One of our vital national interests is the economy.”

Freakley moderated Tuesday's discussion, which included three veterans and an ASU professor.

He criticized President Barack Obama’s 2013 proposed military budget cuts, which he said could be $1 trillion. He said budget cuts should be made in other areas of the federal budget, not military spending.

“This is the first time we’ve downsized the military during war,” Freakley said. “Do we want to put the men and women of our military in harm’s way?”

The rest of the veterans on the panel agreed with Freakley that it was important to maintain a powerful military to defend security, and that wasteful spending in other areas was harming national security.

The discussion was part of the college tour of the Concerned Veterans for America, an organization that opposes defense budget cuts. The audience consisted mostly of cadets from ROTC.

Mike Mitchell, the Arizona director for the organization, said it is important to educate college students about the pressing issue of defense cuts.

“We feel there is a need to bring perspectives to students on issues like economic freedom, defense spending and entitlement reform,” Mitchell said.

Sheldon Simon, a professor at the ASU School of Politics and Global Studies, challenged the notion that the U.S. could not afford to make cuts to its defense budget.

“The U.S.’s defense budget is $520 billion, more than the next 16 countries spend on defense,” Simon said. “Most of which are our allies.”

All of the panelists said the core of the debate is determining the definition of vital U.S. security interests.

Simon said the U.S. may not be able to afford getting involved in conflicts that aren’t absolutely vital to U.S. security.

“It costs the U.S. $1 million per troop in Afghanistan,” Simon said. “Are we prepared to pay that kind of money for activity that may or may not protect our vital interests? War is declining, because it no longer pays.”

Martin Sepulveda, a commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, said the uncertainty of the future of the defense budget presents important questions for the next generation of soldiers.

“Maybe we need to ask ourselves what national defense really is,” Sepulveda said. “The biggest threat to our security is debt and over-spending.”

Reach the reporter at or follow him @jthrall1

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