January 16, 2014
By Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret)
The recent passage of the Bipartisan Budget
Act (BBA) was trumpeted as a bipartisan, two-year, sequestration-alleviating
But, in reality, the budget deal was a
backroom, eleventh-hour pact that was rushed through both the House and Senate
before the holidays, bypassing the committees of jurisdiction and highlighting a
growing military/civilian divide that fails to recognize the necessary
sacrifice that comes with two decades of service.
Even though the budget deal would help
ease the harmful effects of sequestration for two years for the Pentagon, doing
so on the backs of servicemembers who serve our nation for more than 20 years
Fortunately, several members of Congress — now that they have seen
the harmful effect of the change — have introduced more than 17 bills to repeal
some or all of the COLA provision.
But there are still critics, including many members of the press,
who are supporting the COLA cut, calling it exceedingly modest to “a military
pension plan that is already far more generous than private-sector
What has caused these critics to
believe the military pension is out of line?
It started when our own uniformed and
civilian leaders within the Pentagon created the perfect storm, providing
political top cover to slash pay and benefits with their repeated, alarming, and
false claims about “exploding” personnel cost growth.
The Pentagon’s current rhetoric on exploding
personnel growth has emboldened some in Congress to consider making drastic
changes to the military benefits, compensation, and retirement system in the
name of fiscal responsibility and without fully understanding the unintended
consequences of their actions, the immediate impact on morale, and subsequent effect
Congress, the press, and the American people should not take for
granted the sacrifice and service (and retention) of our all-volunteer force by
equating it to civilian careers. Sustaining the all-volunteer force cannot be
done on “the cheap,” and equating the benefit package to those in the civilian workplace
devalues and trivializes the very nature of career service in uniform.
The men and women in uniform cannot say “no” when presented with orders
they don’t like. They, unlike civilians, are subject to the Uniform Code of
Military Justice. And in order to earn the retirement benefit, servicemembers
must make it through an up-or-out personnel system or potentially face being
separated or discharged.
The entire military family makes tremendous sacrifices on the road
to potential retirement. Military spouses seldom establish their own careers
because of frequent and involuntary separations and relocations, and because of
frequent moves, rarely do military couples spend enough time in one place to
gain any equity in a home.
Military children, on average, will attend six to eight schools
during grades K-12. Their young lives are also peppered with extended
separations from their military parent. Along the road to retirement, many will
decide the personal sacrifice is too great.
And some critics are the first to point out military retirees
leave in the 40s or 50s and immediately find gainful employment. But not all military
skills translate well into civilian jobs, regardless of what some pundits say. And
the reality is two incomes are necessary to reach the standard of living to
maintain a household and send their kids to college.
But what is most disturbing is equating military service to the
private sector. We’ve seen the service and sacrifices our men and women in
uniform and their families have had to endure over the past 12 years of war — and
they are far from civilian-like.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey,
USA, stated in a hearing before the House Armed Services
Committee in October 2011 that the military retirement program “needs to be
fundamentally different than anything you can find in the civilian sector.”
The bottom-line: Until you can adjust the conditions of service
for those in uniform to be more “civilian-like,” stop trying to compare the
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