Tomorrow marks an important day in our nation’s history: the birth of the United States Air Force.
For 73 years, countless brave American men and women have protected our liberty and our homeland from the skies. They have embarked on air combat missions, guarded our bases and missile sites, and undertaken rescues. They have flown, fought, and won in the air on behalf of our country.
And this year marks another important anniversary in my home state of Utah: the 80th year of Hill Air Force Base’s service to that mission.
In 1939, Congress approved the construction of an air depot in Northern Utah. The following year, on January 12th, the surrounding community came together and broke ground to create what is now known as Hill Air Force Base.
And ever since, it has played an invaluable role in building up our Air Force and supporting our airmen and women – throughout World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and conflicts we face today.
Tucked between the beautiful Wasatch Mountain range on the east, and the Great Salt Lake on the West, Hill Air Force Base is today home to 22,000 military personnel.
It is the largest single-site employer in the state of Utah – providing nearly $1.5 billion in jobs each year, with an overall economic impact of about $3.7 billion annually.
Hill houses and ensures mission readiness for some of our best and brightest troops, including the 75th Air Base Wing, the 388th Fighter Wing, and the 419th Reserve Fighter Wing.
It is also home to the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, which repairs and maintains some of our most cutting-edge aircraft: the F-22 Raptor, the F-16 Falcon, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the T-38 Talon, and the F-35A Lightning II – the most advanced fighter jet in the world.
The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center on Hill has since 1959 been responsible for supporting the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program, the ground-based leg of our nuclear triad.
Just a short distance west of the base, the Utah Test & Training Range (UTTR) contains the largest block of special-use airspace in the continental United States.
The range provides an ideal location for testing and evaluation of weapons and training grounds for combat, ensuring that our airmen are prepared win any conflict we enter into with decisive air and space power.
There is no question that Hill oversees vital national assets for the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force, and our country, are better off for it.
But there is something even more important that makes Hill the exceptional place that it is: its people. The patriotism, work ethic, and community support are unmatched anywhere else in the country.
Every commander who does a two-year rotation at Hill always says the same thing: that the community support is stronger at Hill than at any other base where they have served.
I am proud to say that in Utah, we go above and beyond to aid our military and their families – as well we should.
According to the 2019 Support of Military Family report, Utah ranks among the top destinations for military families transitioning to a new duty station.
Two of the three highest-ranking Air Force installations were in Utah: Hill Air Force Base, and Roland Wright Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City.
And a key reason why has been Utah’s work to improve professional license reciprocity for military spouses.
Among the many challenges that military families face, one of the greatest is that spouses working in fields requiring occupational licenses suffer huge setbacks to their careers.
Faced with a 50-state patchwork of licensing laws, these spouses are forced to spend thousands of dollars and hours to obtain licensure every time they move to a new state – even if they have years of experience and licensure in another state. And oftentimes, by the time the new license has been processed, it is already time for the family to move again for their next assignment.
The Department of Labor estimates that 13 percent of military spouses are unemployed, and a more recent Department of Defense study put the rate even higher, at 24 percent.
Mr./Madam President, this needlessly and unjustly burdens military members and their families. In some instances, it prevents servicemembers from reenlisting; and in others, it prevents spouses from entering their desired field in the first place.
Thankfully, some states have already stepped up to the plate to address this problem.
And in fact, thanks to the diligent work of Utah State Senator Todd Weiler and State Rep. Brian Greene, my home state has been one of the first to allow licensure reciprocity for military spouses, as long as they meet certain established criteria.
I commend them for their efforts, and I am encouraged to see other states following the example set by Utah.
But the federal government has a role to play here, too. Military readiness and talent retention, as well as movement of our troops across the nation, fall under the oversight responsibilities of Congress.
We at the national level should be doing everything in our power to ensure that licensing laws are friendly and flexible for military spouses and their families.
That is why I am introducing the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act. This bill will simply ensure that when servicemembers are relocated on military orders, their spouses can receive reciprocity for professional licenses across state lines.
In order to receive reciprocity, a license must be in good standing according to the requirements in the jurisdiction that issued the license; and the spouse must still comply with the state’s standards of practice, discipline, and fulfillment of any continuing education requirements.
As a state function, protected under the Tenth Amendment, the bill does not preempt the states’ rightful authority to set their own licensing standards.
Mr./Madam President, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the men and women who give so much to protect our nation – whether on the land, the seas, or the skies.
This bill is a simple, just solution that will lessen some of the burden on them.
As we commemorate the birthday of the Air Force and the anniversary of Hill Air Force Base this week, it is the least we can do for our military and families that serve.
I yield the floor.