Following Armed Services Hearing on the Pensacola Naval Station Attack, Chairman Ernst Takes Action to Reform, Improve Foreign Military Student Programs

The Iowa senator is putting forward legislation, with Sen. Scott (R-FL), to reform and improve the DoD’s foreign military student programs, ensure safety of American military bases

WASHINGTON – On the heels of leading a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities hearing yesterday on this very issue, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), and her SASC colleague, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), are working to reform and improve foreign military student training programs following the terrorist attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola on December 6th, 2019.

The two senators are introducing the Secure U.S. Bases Act, which requires a thorough vetting process before a foreign student enters the U.S.; creates a special, limited visa for foreign students; and establishes a review process so that the Department of Defense (DOD) is not operating training programs in the U.S. that would be better operated abroad. 

“Foreign military programs have valuable benefits—providing our partners around the world the opportunity to train and learn from the best here in the U.S.—but the tragic events at Pensacola underscore the unacceptable shortfalls in our security standards and vetting procedures,” said Senator Ernst. “We must do more to protect our military personnel and ensure the security of our facilities. This bill addresses those shortfalls—creating a more thorough vetting and monitoring process that keeps our servicemembers and military bases secure and safe.”

“The safety and security of American men and women in uniform is always a priority for me, and it should be a priority of our entire government. The tragic terrorist attack in Pensacola last year revealed an unnecessary risk,” said Senator Rick Scott. “This terrorist should never have been allowed in our country, let alone on an American military base with easy access to American military men and women. The Secure U.S. Bases Act will make sure foreign military students training at U.S. bases are thoroughly vetted and monitored, and that our troops are protected and never have to experience a tragedy like this again.”

At the SASC Subcommittee hearing Ernst chaired yesterday, the Iowa senator highlighted the benefits programs like International Military Training and Education provide for our partners from around the world—giving them the opportunity to train and learn from the best here in the U.S. But she stated that while there are valuable benefits of these programs, the tragic events at Pensacola underscore the unacceptable shortfalls in our security standards and vetting procedures.

The Secure U.S. Bases Act:

  • Creates a new visa category for foreign military students training on U.S. bases with restrictions on their travel and actions while in the country. Individuals who receive the new visa will be prohibited from possessing, acquiring, or using firearms, except for uses specifically required by their training program and be under the continual control of their commander regarding his or her whereabouts and activities.
  • Alters the application process, vetting and monitoring requirements for foreign military students. The application to train on U.S. bases will require an official endorsement letter from the Chief of Intelligence of their country, personal information including a physical address, fingerprints, and other data, an in-person interview and an extensive background check that will include a review of social media activity. The U.S. Director of National Intelligence will be responsible for the final decision on whether to admit an applicant into the program.
  • Differentiates military training programs based on risk. The bill requires the Secretary of Defense to develop a method for classifying relative risks, by country, and to consider the overall risk profile of each country when making determinations of applicants’ eligibility. The DOD must also to consider implementing appropriate training programs in other countries when appropriate.

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