Our nation has many challenges and certainly fiscal challenges. Some predict doomsday scenarios, the collapse of the dollar and the U.S. financial system, and point to gold as the currency to have. Lacking any knowledge of economics, I'm not prepared to offer my two cents (whether it's still worth two cents or not) on that topic. But I am alarmed that the apparently influential Defense Business Board (DBB), which contains two words I'd rather never be spoken in the same phrase, is offering up for congressional consideration this plan to save money. Break your contract.
While some in our government have had the amazing tenacity to tar and feather the S&P for their third party downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, the government admits that it is going to welch on obligations to Social Security beneficiaries and even those who have fought the nations multiple wars for the last decade plus. How interesting. So I suppose if my neighbor wants to borrow money from me, and he's more than $300,000 in debt and spends each year more than he makes, and has let his gardener know that he's not going to be able to pay him for the last twenty years of work as promised, then he deserves a Triple-A credit rating and I would be a fool not to lend to him.
Veterans of course, will not only lose out on their hard earned retirement benefits, but they'll also lose out on the money they were forced to invest into Social Security. Bonus.
The absurdity is staggering, as are some of the characterizations being made for the proposal to end the traditional military retirement in favor of a 401K, for those who have sacrificed so much to fight this nation's wars, whether they agreed with the wars or not. Absurdity number one is the characterization of this new proposal as somehow "fair." Advocates for this new proposal continually cite the fact that only a small percentage of people retire, so most do not enjoy any retirement benefits. Well no kidding, that's because it's "retirement" and it's there for those who spend more than two years in. Just as they knew when they freely accepted the obligation and raised their hand. And why do fewer people stay until retirement? In my experience, it's because people get fed up with not only the deployments, and the separation from family, but the long hours and the horrible base locations and the never ending string of non-mission essential but time consuming bloat. So to reward those who buckle down and continue on twenty years plus of delayed gratification, the solution is to break a contract with them and their families? This isn't about fairness in any way, shape, or form just as giving your gardener a coke after you refuse to pay him for his labor is nothing more than theft.
The second absurdity is this idea that military service is somehow comparable to non-military service. One previously mentioned pain is similar, ie the meaningless bloat likely meant to help a supervisor get promoted, rather than bolster the mission or sell widgets. People often don't like the ideas on the ladder above them, and stress and shouldered responsibility are not universally loved. Think of Kevin Spacey's character in American Beauty, and his joy to quit his well paying job for a fast food joint and a position, "with the least possible responsibility." While it's true that some in the military are gifted at finding ways to essentially live a civilian life in uniform, that is certainly not all in the military. And guess who does the actual fighting of wars? The military has unique demands:
- Less than wonderful base locations. There are places people don't like, and there are places people hate, and the military has plenty of both. Imagine living in a small town as a single person and adding that to your deployment schedule. Living somewhere populated with people "from there" because few would consider moving to that location, let alone staying. Consider the Hierarchy of Needs and consider the effects on morale for a person who is probably more educated than most in the town in which they live. Consider dating and a social life. While education level and life experiences don't necessarily dictate happy relations, limiting the social arena to a Wal-Mart does. While mission is important and can be satisfying, most people find real satisfaction in human relationships, dating, marrying, and family. Too many decision makers, more than likely married, forget just how critically important this fact is to the welfare of their people and mission readiness. Of course, location also hurts some married couples. How does the divorce rate in the military stack up against corporate America, I wonder? How about rates of alcohol abuse? This is just everyday living and doesn't factor in the locations of regular, and constant, deployments, to say nothing of life spent at sea aboard a ship or sub.
- Combat. This one is obvious but needs to be emphasized. How many bankers or Wal-Mart employees have to drive through a highway known to have IEDs? How many are required to risk or give their lives? How many clock in, then based on trusting the system, turn around and take the life of another? Who from Staples was kidnapped at work and spent years in the Hanoi Hilton? How many corporate employees kill themselves to avoid going to work?
- UCMJ. How many people can be put in prison because they were insubordinate to a supervisor, or because they made a mistake and cheated on a spouse, or criticized the sitting Governor of a State? How many company policies come with death by firing squad for an infraction?
- PT: How many are required every six months to run around a track, do push-ups and sit-ups, and lose their job if they don't run fast enough or pump out enough push-ups at five thousand feet of elevation in the blistering heat? How many civilians are forced to take more time away from family in order to workout, as their bodies slow down in their late thirties or forties?
Colonel George "Bud" Day has seen this welching on a promise before. When the government wheeled out its plan to cut the hard earned retirement benefits of retirees, he went to Court and to Congress. He lost in Court because Congress had not put into law these medical benefits, therefore the military wasn't in a position to make a promise that Congress had to fund. But retirement benefits are law, and serving for years during hard times to receive those benefits should not be so easily swept away. Notably, he didn't get any real support from the military veteran organizations. They were too busy selling supplemental health care policies. History repeats itself. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of Col Day and his band of veterans, he was able to lobby and limit the damage.
For those who do not plan to stay until twenty (and that is many because people are tired of hearing how broken their military is for the last decade plus, while they have to endure it), these changes might be welcomed. They get something "for free" that the government was not obligated to pay them. They have no intention of staying until twenty. The dirty little secret is, the military has a retention problem already despite what is said about the economy, and this proposal if enacted would absolutely decimate our military and our defense. People would get out in droves, stop loss would be enacted, and we would be down to a force of conscripts, not quite slave labor, but people who weren't given the pay they were told they'd get and are not allowed to leave.
But I could be wrong. Maybe the system would work, and we wouldn't need to pin four stars on an airman with only six years in. What would it take to keep people serving in those conditions? Perhaps another Great Depression? Perhaps something that those with the numbers and the inside view know is coming, something that was kicked down the road but not fended off? In such conditions, many people will endure any working conditions just to have a job. Maybe our military readiness won't suffer as I predict, and perhaps those doomsday predictions mentioned earlier deserve another look...