Top Enlisted Leaders for Each Service Set to Testify on Quality-of-Life Issues at House Hearing

by Braxton Taylor

The senior enlisted leaders for each military service, including the top noncommissioned officer in the military, will testify in front of Congress at the end of the month about quality-of-life issues for troops — a raft of recently exposed problems including squalid living conditions, subpar dining facilities and access to health care.

The leaders will appear before the House Armed Services Committee’s military quality-of-life panel, a bipartisan group of lawmakers who assembled last summer with the aim of keeping the services accountable for issues that affect the lives of troops and military families. The hearing will be Jan. 31, the Marine Corps and the office of House panel Chairman Don Bacon, R-Neb., told Military.com.

“Chairman Bacon believes it’s important that the members of the military quality-of-life panel hear directly from the nation’s senior enlisted leaders on the challenges currently facing the all-volunteer force,” Danielle Jensen, a spokesperson for Bacon, said in an emailed statement. “Chairman Bacon looks forward to hearing their insight and experience as the panel completes its work and prepares its final report and legislative recommendations to the House Armed Services Committee.”

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The upcoming hearing is the first public meeting of the panel since a September hearing on housing conditions, and for some of the recently appointed military leaders, this will be the first time that they will appear before Congress to testify on the issue.

The senior enlisted leaders who were invited are:

  • Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Weimer
  • Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea
  • Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlos Ruiz
  • Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass
  • Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force John Bentivegna
  • Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Troy Black

Military.com reached out to each of the services and asked what they expected to speak about, but not all answered the inquiry. Specifically, the publication asked about living conditions, one of the top problems that the military is grappling with as images, accounts and investigations reveal moldy and vermin-infested barracks and housing.

“Sgt. Maj. Carlos Ruiz will be prepared to answer questions from panel members regarding quality-of-life issues that affect Marines, their families and civilian employees,” Master Sgt. Michael Cifuentes, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps, told Military.com on Wednesday. “Housing and barracks are among the many factors that affect the morale, welfare and readiness of the Marine Corps, and Sgt. Maj. Ruiz will represent the service in ensuring those matters are discussed appropriately with our elected leaders.”

The Navy confirmed that Honea will attend the hearing later this month and that he “is prepared to discuss multiple topics that impact [quality of life] to include pay and compensation, child care, housing, support programs for spouses of service members, and health care,” according to a spokesperson for the Navy.

The senior enlisted leaders of the Army, Air Force and Space Force will be attending the hearing, spokespeople for the services told Military.com, but did not provide comment on what they expect to talk about before publication.

The Joint Chiefs and Pentagon did not respond to Military.com’s request for comment.

The senior enlisted leaders of the military services routinely testify before Congress as part of the annual budget process. But the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel subcommittee, typically the forum for military quality-of-life discussions, has increasingly become entangled in political fights, and the senior enlisted leaders’ appearance there last year was overshadowed by GOP attacks on “wokeness.”

The quality-of-life panel was set up last year as a refuge from the political fights and is tasked with providing recommendations on improving military pay, housing, health care and family life that could be included in the defense policy bill Congress will consider later this year. In addition to September’s public hearing on housing, the group has held several closed-door briefings with Defense Department officials, military service organizations and military spouses. Panel members have said they are aiming to produce a final report with recommendations in February.

Bacon, the panel’s chairman, has previously said he wants the senior enlisted leaders to testify publicly before the group wraps up its work.

The senior enlisted advisers “will tell you what’s really going on,” Bacon said at a November event hosted by With Honor, a political action committee that supports veterans running for office. “The idea of right-sizing enlisted pay didn’t come from [the Office of the Secretary of Defense]. It came from one of the senior enlisted advisers, and he made a compelling case. Actually, two of them have.”

At the same event, Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, and the panel’s top Democrat, and Air Force veteran Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, previewed some of the unconventional ideas the group is considering, including making junior enlisted pay tax-exempt and allowing parents to take two-year leaves of absence without hurting their military careers.

— Steve Beynon contributed to this report.

Related: Barracks Repairs, Other Military Quality-of-Life Improvements Slam Into Congress’ Upcoming Budget Fight

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