Leaving aside the chatter about horses and bayonets, the final presidential debate offered President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney an opportunity to address critical issues facing America’s military. Budget cuts pose a serious threat to military readiness — aging aircraft, a shrinking Navy, and an Army that’s going to battle without needed equipment.

Even before the military faced nearly $1 trillion in budget cuts, there were already mounting readiness challenges. Earlier this year, Heritage interviewed military veterans from the Army, Air Force and Navy about how they needed to adapt as a result of insufficient resources.

For veterans of the Iraq war like Col. Kerry Kachejian, a retired Army Reserve engineer, it meant relying on a sport-utility vehicle more suited for America’s highways than Iraq’s dangerous streets. Without armored fighting vehicles that could stand up to ambushes and attacks, Kachejian recalled how the SUVs were modified — ripping off the tailgate to make room for a gunner and hanging personal body armor out the window to stop or slow down a AK-47 round.

Another veteran, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, earned his wings and flew an F-15 for the first time in 1977. Thirty years later, another Deptula boarded the aircraft. His son, Lt. David A. Deptula II, flew the same F-15 at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan. The fighter was originally designed for a 4,000-hour service life. That was later extended to 8,000 hours. Deptula knows the risks associated with flying an older aircraft firsthand.

In 1979, Capt. Tom Shanahan, commanding officer of the USS Canisteo, had just returned from the Mediterranean Sea and was leading an overhaul of his fleet supply ship. Over the course of 10 months, the crew assigned to the Canisteo gradually disappeared, relocated by the Navy to other assignments. Those personnel cuts eventually left Shanahan with so few men that he couldn’t take his ship to sea. Shanahan took the bold step of refusing to certify his ship as seaworthy. Today, more than one-fifth of Navy ships were not ready for combat.

Heritage’s video highlights the risks of budget cuts to America’s military. The videos showcase personal stories of U.S. military veterans who confronted readiness challenges in their careers.