The current administration is appears to be moving forward with plans to reduce the retirement benefits of personnel who complete the necessary time in service to become eligible for retirement pay. Five years ago I retired from the military and began receiving retirement pay. After 20 years of service I received 50% of my base pay. In essence you earn 2.5% of your base pay but only become eligible once you have completed 20 years of service. The proposed legislation would reduce a twenty year retirement to 40% of military base pay plus introduce their version of a 401k plan. The plan will also alter medical benefits of retirees. I believe this is going to adversely affect retention, which will lead to future leadership deficits that will weaken our national defense.
When I enlisted in the military I did so to take advantage of the GI Bill which would pay my college tuition. I planned on serving the required 4 years of my initial contract, be discharged and pursue a college degree. A wife and two kids later, I was near the end of the four years and decided that it would financially in my best interest to to remain in the military until I could afford to get out, go to school and take care of my family. The decision not to get out of the Army ultimately lead to my retirement. The attractiveness of completing 20 years of service out weighed the obvious inherent danger and family stress of military life. I advanced through the ranks and became increasingly proficient at my job. More importantly, I grew as military leader. Senior military leadership is vitally important for training, moral, mission accomplishment and a host of intangibles that are too many to list in this forum. In my opinion, without it you could potentially just have a bunch a people with guns (Ok, that was extreme).
My point is that while many in the military love what they do professionally, longevity in service in related to the benefits that have traditionally been awarded for faithful service. I fear that the proposed changes will initially influence the decisions of those who find themselves at a crossroad trying to decide whether to stay in the military as I did or leave for greener pastures. If implemented there will be military personnel still eligible for the old retirement while new recruits will fall under the new plan. I believe this will deter new recruits from deciding to retire. Despite the projected benefits to the government and to the military as a whole, which are suppose to result from this change, I don’t see it as a positive, overall. Maybe it is because I feel that military pay is currently too little which is why my retirement is barely above the poverty level. When you consider what our military has endured since 911, the idea that a reduction in retirement pay is on the horizon speaks volumes to the disconnect between government officials and the military.
When retention numbers drop, it will create a gap in what has been historically a natural succession of leaders in the military. The seasoned leaders will leave and the military will become a revolving door for young Americans looking to get a start in life, not staying for a career in the military. How can they trust that benefits available to them at the time of their enlistment will even be available if they did decide to stay? What security would they have when they see a government that appears to lack empathy for one of it’s most sacred assets?
History will tell if this is a point when we are poising to diminish the structure within the military which has helped to make it great. The development of the military leader. Without proper leadership from veteran military leaders we will see a drastic decline in the quality of our military. The proposed legislation could possibly what catapults in that direction. Our country has had the luxery of wielding the strongest military in the world for quite a while. Now, in the face of global terrorist uncertainty, we are putting national security in jeopardy. Hopefully, my fears are misguided and this will not come to pass. I’m just glad I was not put in the situation many of my brothers and sisters will find themselves.