As you all know, I served in the US Army for 22 years. When I first entered active duty we still had “pay day activities” and pay officers. I remember the days as a young lieutenant dressed in Class A uniform, issued a .45-caliber sidearm and a personal guard with M16 rifle and we went down and signed for a briefcase of cash. Soldiers would line up to receive their pay — this was before direct deposit, so now I am dating myself. The troops would stand there after they reported, “Sir, PFC Jones reporting for pay” and watch me count out their pay and present them with their pay stub. If there was one thing troops liked, it was pay day.
And so a recent story in Military.com really has me scratching my head. According to the story, “Senior Pentagon officials told Congress last Tuesday that troops are willing to sacrifice portions of their pay and benefits if it means keeping and improving the training and equipment needed to do their jobs.
Personnel officials from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and the Department of Defense met with the House Armed Services’ Military Personnel subcommittee to talk about cuts to pay and benefits the Pentagon is proposing for its upcoming budget. These include a smaller pay raise — 1 percent raise, an average 5 percent reduction in housing allowances, and higher health care fees for some retirees.
Military leaders say personnel costs make up about a third of their budgets and remain the fasting growing portion. Unless the trend is slowed and reversed, manning costs will eventually make it impossible to meet other funding needs, the military brass has said. “That’s why we are asking for a 1 percent [troop pay increase] instead of a 2 or higher percentage, so we can slow that growth of a military member’s pay and also be able to bolster their readiness and bolster the modernization,” Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright said.
However, the personnel officials who offered testimony before the subcommittee could offer only personal anecdotes to back up their belief that troops would welcome pay and benefit cuts. No survey results were offered.
I sat on the HASC Subcommittee on Military Personnel and I find this proposal – in actuality a false choice — quite disturbing. We should not be forcing our men and women in uniform to choose between a paycheck and training. I find it unconscionable that we are right now spending how many billions of dollars advertising for Obamacare and trying to fix a broken website? Those funds could have gone to our military men and women. Recently the Congress made an ill-fated decision to cut COLA for military and medically service-related retirees, a cost savings of $6 billion. As we reported there are fewer than one million Americans who fit into this category in our nation.
I am sick of the insanity of punishing our military to be the bill payers for more wasteful spending in Washington DC. The Constitution clearly states, “provide for the common defense” but instead the Obama administration believes in “providing for the common welfare.”
Miitary.com reports that veterans’ organizations, which often speak for the services’ rank and file, have opposed many of the proposed cuts. The veterans groups, including the Association of the U.S. Navy and The American Legion, back a 1.8 percent raise that is tied to the formula worked out by the Employment Cost Index of the Labor Department.
This is why we need more lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have recently served in uniform. We are breaking our promise to those who are the best amongst us, our “guardians of the Republic.” Instead of Obama offering empty campaign-style largesse, such as increasing the minimum wage to $10 for government contract workers — he should have focused on the real income inequality — the compensation of those willing to give the last full measure of devotion.