NASHVILLE - U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., warned Thursday that the deaths of 17 U.S. service members in two recent Navy ship collisions represent "more warning signs that our military readiness crisis is deepening."
The South Pittsburg congressman's comments came following a House Armed Services Committee hearing earlier in the day with Navy admirals painting a "dire" picture on readiness in the wake of separate collisions involving the USS John McCain and USS Fitzgerald in recent weeks.
"The USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald accidents are more warning signs that our military readiness crisis is deepening," DesJarlais said in a news release. "It is imperative we learn from our mistakes and provide our fighting men and women with all the resources they need to defend our country and to ensure they return home safely to their families."
Ten sailors died when the USS John McCain collided with a merchant vessel in the Pacific. That came only weeks after a similar collision involving the USS Fitzgerald resulted in the deaths of seven sailors.
All told, DesJarlais said, 42 service members have died in on-duty accidents, including 15 Marines and a sailor killed in an air crash in Mississippi.
While investigations into specific causes of recent deaths are ongoing, DesJarlais said defense experts at Thursday's hearing underscored increasing strains on sailors and ships because of expanding global missions and a depleted force.
The congressman said that helped lead him to vote to increase troop numbers pay, benefits, training and equipment in a House-passed defense funding bill in July. The bill awaits action in the Senate.
According to DesJarlais, U.S. troops are now more likely to die in "peacetime" accidents than in combat.
"Our job in Congress is to protect our military members, so they can protect us abroad," said DesJarlais, a member of the Subcommittees on Readiness, as well as Seapower and Projection Forces.
DesJarlais said the need to rebuild the military comes as the result of "heavy cuts" made by the previous Obama administration as well as the increasing assertiveness of North Korea, China, Iran, ISIS and other U.S. adversaries.