By Stewart M. Hickey, AMVETS National Executive Director
What on earth are our military leaders thinking these days? Their comments on pay and benefits at a recent Senate Armed Services, Personnel Sub-committee hearing, should sound an alarm and serve as a wake-up call for all military members and veterans. Watch out for your pay and benefits because military leadership doesn’t have your back.
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Michael Barratt told Congress and his own Marines (Less pay raises discipline, Marine Corps Times, Apr 9, 2014) that a lower quality of life would be beneficial to Marines: “I truly believe it will raise discipline… You’ll have better spending habits. You won’t be so wasteful… In my 33 years, we’ve never had a better quality of life… We’ve never had it so good,” said Barratt.
Does the senior enlisted member of the Marine Corps, who is responsible for the well-being of his Marines, truly care about the cause and effect of his opinion? This kind of rhetoric is especially scary considering that roughly 75% of Marines separate after their first enlistment with few marketable job skills, little to no budgeting or financial management skills, and little to no financial stability. No wonder the Marine Corps is the largest contributor to the 18-24 year old at-risk veteran unemployment population.
These kinds of remarks are indicative of a bigger problem, the massive disconnect between the colonels, generals, admirals, and others in the Pentagon, and the vast majority of our service members who are less privileged. Many of these military leaders make more in a month than a junior enlisted does in an entire year, so it’s easy for them to say that a pay raise isn’t necessary or needed. Since when does having less money or fewer benefits, make you a better person? Or more thrifty? Or anything other than disadvantaged and possibly desperate?
The real problem the Pentagon needs to address is not pay raises or benefits for the troops but the overabundance of flag and general officers currently serving. Current troops- to- chiefs ratios are the complete inverse of where they should actually be – more troops and fewer chiefs. According to the 10 September, 2012, edition of Fabius Maximus – How Bad Is Our Bloat of Generals, since World War II ended, the number of general or flag officers per uniformed personnel has been increasing — reaching an all-time high in 2010 of nearly 7 general and flag officers per every 10,000 uniformed personnel. This is an increase of more than 0.5 a general or flag officer per 10,000 uniformed personnel than when the war in Afghanistan began; 1.5 more than when the Cold War ended; and 5 more than when World War II ended.
This brass-heavy unbalance has a direct, negative, trickle-down effect that wastes money that could be better utilized to provide better outcomes. The thought of downsizing themselves never occurs to them since these very same people are responsible for making these decisions. You might easily compare it to having the fox guarding the hen house or Congress voting for term limits; it all sounds good but has no chance of ever seeing the light of day.
When the decision was made back in the 70’s to replace the military draft system with an all-volunteer military model we knew there would be financial considerations and that we, as a nation, would have to pay the price. Well America, that bill has come due. It’s time to step up and fulfill the obligations incurred roughly 40 years ago. Contrary to senior leaders’ rhetoric, limiting pay raises, cutting earned benefits, eliminating positions and raising health care and pharmacy co-pays isn’t the way to do it.
If the Pentagon wants to find savings within their budget without having to sacrifice readiness, troop strength or break faith with retirees, they could start by eliminating waste. Decrease the high rate of growth in the Pentagon’s personnel accounts, close excess bases, and retire obsolete weapon systems that are past their prime or no longer fit our current or emerging security needs. These few options alone would free up enough resources to fund personnel, bullets and bandages. Let’s find ways to bring down costs, but not at the expense of our most valuable resource – our people.
Major Stewart M. Hickey, United States Marine Corps, (Retired), is the National Executive Director of AMVETS.
A leader since 1944 in preserving the freedoms secured by America’s armed forces, AMVETS provides support for veterans and the active military in procuring their earned entitlements, as well as community service and legislative reform that enhances the quality of life for this nation’s citizens and veterans alike. AMVETS is one of the largest congressionally-chartered veterans’ service organizations in the United States, and includes members from each branch of the military, including the National Guard and Reserves. To learn more visit www.amvets.org.