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The Bottom Line - Will We Ever Learn?

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March 11, 2014

By Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret)

As the FY 2015 defense budget rolled out and I reviewed all of the Pentagon’s proposals to curb personnel costs, I had a feeling of déjà vu. Many of these same cost-cutting measures were used before in other drawdowns.

Will we ever learn? 

As was done in the 1970s and again in the ’80s and ’90s, Pentagon planners of the day proposed significant end-strength reductions, capping or freezing military pay, or even modifying the retirement system to curb costs.

Years of budget cuts — ones that depressed pay, reduced retirement value by 25 percent for post-1986 entrants, and moved beneficiaries over age 65 out of the military health system — resulted in significant retention and readiness problems in the late 1990s. 

Between 2000 and 2010, Congress worked diligently to restore pay comparability, repeal the retirement change, zero out housing costs, and restore promised health care coverage for older retirees (TRICARE For Life). 

Now the administration and Pentagon leaders are reverting to some of the previous bad habits: significantly cutting end strength, capping pay for what could be six years, killing 66 percent of commissary savings current patrons see, forcing military families to absorb 5 percent of their housing costs, and shifting more health care costs onto beneficiaries (not just retirees but also currently serving family members).       

The quick money, easy fix is to revert to these bad habits. As an old service planner, I know you can get nearly instant savings from end-strength cuts and the earlier you get the troops off the rolls, the more you can save. 

But even though these bad habits can bring instant savings, repeating these for several years can cause huge retention problems.

A one-year pay cap is a data point, two is a line, but three is a trend. And this proposal caps pay for up to six straight years, unraveling the compensation improvements Congress provided since the turn of the century.

The most important element of national security is sustainment of dedicated, top-quality mid-level NCOs and officers. 

The bottom line: Will we ever learn? Sustaining the all-volunteer force cannot be done “on the cheap,” and in fact, the only times it has been jeopardized were when budget concerns imposed significant cutbacks in the military compensation package. 



Get Involved in the Budget Battle

The Pentagon’s 2015 Budget proposes cuts to military benefits that will significantly reduce the purchasing power of military families, and lead to retention & readiness problems.

Visit www.moaa.org/budgetbattle for resources and ways to take action! 


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  • How much money was "saved" from the furlough and personnel cuts last year? Did this money go toward any meaningful long term debt reduction, or was it just taken from one pocket and placed in the other one? This grand idea of government savings is just a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

  • I think R.A. Heinlein had it right when he suggested that a citizen's franchise should be earned by service to the country, whether in uniform or equivalent public service. Only then would you have the right to vote. It would solve many of the problems of today, including this repetative cycle of compensation/readiness cuts followed by attempts to "catch up".

  • Maybe we could just have members of the Armed Services all take a vow of poverty and be done with the whole thing.... Just saying

  • Mr. White has summed up the situation well. Time to stop sugar-coating our response and tell it like we see it. Politicians always look at military personnel as people they can shaft without getting any substantial backlash. The Pentagon bean-counters seem to forget what things are like down in the maneuver units, if they ever actually knew.

  • Our elected officials think the military members are just like people on welfare. However, these intelligent men and women think that military personnel aren't as smart as these elected officials. Hence, MOAA with military personnel are taking them to task. The elected officials and bureaucrats think they can always win but people control elections. Elected officials only control their vote whiile in office. The problem with Congress for years as the many good military men and women are not running for office, leaving the Congrs in both houses empty of people with military expertise. Instead, we have people such as some prior Senators with less than stellar service advertising against the military. These Secretaries don't help the military goals for long term plans and operations. We cannot let the valued service members lose their initiative and drive to stay in to defend our way of liife.

  • Delusional commenters like Kenneth White here are why distractions prevent a real, actual, coherent debate on the issues. All hysteria, xenophobia, and junior high name calling, and zero substance, all the time. Please go back to your Readers Digest and Ouija Board, and let the adults work on solutions.

  • This is business as usual. Notwithstanding superb efforts by organizations such as MOAA, personnel costs are always the first and easiest target. Why? Our leaders, both military and civilian, say all the right things regarding the importance of people, but their actions speak louder than words. I'm dismayed at the current path being taken by the administration and perhaps even more dismayed by what appears to be a lack of moral courage exhibited by those who should know better, our senior leaders. I fear for those who continue to put their lives in harms way for a country that no longer appears to care.

  • As a rudimentary and axiomatic base on which to effect modest changes to military pay let's just leave the 20 year 50% retirement in place. To NOT use this as a base is akin to some kind of rare dementia usually found within the beltway - and I can say this enthusiastically without even pausing to reflect on how much Obama's golf junkets and his wife's queen-like, transparent boondoggles cost Americans. Now that Putin is on a roll, and whacko muslims have lost both sides of their brains, isn't this a really great time, the perfect time perhaps, for administration and senior bureaucrats (with our military brass meekly kowtowing behind as if they were lapdogs) to get their collective skirts all blown up to downgrade the military? And of course doesn’t it perfectly and logically follow that upgrading our welfare, food stamp and unemployment programs is the very best alternative to keeping our nation strong - i.e., take money from the military and place it in the hands of a huge mass of do nothing citizens. Perfect! Obama style pitch perfect! Yes, by all means, let's diminish one of the last honest "games in town” (the military) and make a full conversion to nanny state, or maybe at this point it's tranny state? What in the hell is WRONG with us! One thing is we have pampered prima donnas in elected offices, elected by hordes of likewise pampered prima donnas, fewer and fewer ex-military in public office and we don't have many citizens under 60 anymore who can even spell “ history" much less learn from it, all thanks to 40 years of liberal poison being injected into our educational system, and, of course, we must not forget that Halliburton et. Cie has pretty much emptied the Iraq-Afghanistan cookie jar at this point. We dropped $3 trillion down a rathole there! So, of course it is absolutely the "perfect" time to stomp on the military. What other options could there possibly be in such a wise country run by cretins?

  • No. We never learn because each new narcissistic elitist ruler thinks he/she knows everything and will always know how to do it better than it has ever been done before. Why should they look at the reality of history when they are so much more intelligent than any of their predecessors? And besides, they'll be long gone and collecting their retirement pay, book deals and speaking engagement stipends long before the results of their actions reach maturity.

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