The Obama Administration has made me bi-polar. It seems like it’s always kiss-us-on-one-cheek, slap-us-on-the-other with those folks.
For her part, beautiful and gracious Michelle Obama has done more for military families than any First Lady I can recall. And President Obama even issued a wide-ranging Presidential Directive on Military Families to every branch of the Federal Government in January. I truly believe both of them are sincere in their desires to make military life more palatable and sustainable.
But then, under President Obama’s watch, we in the military community have nearly not been paid and have seen our promised retiree benefits and Tricare benefits dangled over a hopeless abyss as if they were a optional gift from the federal government instead of a benefit that has been promised and earned, a million times over.
Recently, The White House debt reduction plan described military retirement as “out of line with most other government or private retirement plans.” If ever a statement proved the thesis of the book AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service — And How It Hurts Our Country, written by my friend Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer, it was that sentence from the White House.
Military retirement IS out of line with most other government and private retirement plans because MILITARY SERVICE IS OUT OF LINE WITH MOST OTHER GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE JOBS. In fact, that I even have to write that sentence proves the points made in AWOL.
But, for those of you sitting side by side with our President and Congress in the remedial class, here’s the condensed version of why military benefits have to be better in an all-volunteer military:
1. Military service, even during peacetime, is dangerous. Troops die all the time, even when they’re just training.
2. Military service is hard. People yell at you. They don’t care about your feelings. They make you do things you don’t want to do. And if you have a bad attitude about all of that you could find yourself court-martialed.
3. You can’t just quit your military job if you decide you don’t like it. You sign up for a set number of years and you owe those years. Period. You can never say, “take this job and shove it” and you have to follow orders EVEN when you think that doing so might get you killed.
4. Military service is hard on families. Divorces are rampant and kids grow up with lots of memories of someone missing from the dinner table. This is true even during peacetime.
5. Frequent moves are common and exhausting for the whole family and often mean that your family will have to subsist on one income — and not an especially generous income at that. You’ll make a decent living in the military but, because of frequent moves and long deployments — your spouse may not be able to find or keep a job. Your kids will change schools and friends — a lot, and may even have to repeat a grade because of different school system requirements.
6. Your body WILL be broken. Yes, service members are in better shape than their civilian peers while they’re serving, but 20 years worth of PT, rucking and, in some cases, jumping out of airplanes and other extreme tasks, mean that you will not move well as an old person. And that’s not even counting war injuries. (This, btw, is precisely why the Tricare benefits for retirees need to be good — military retirees are paying now to treat injuries and ailments they received while they were serving.)
… should I go on?
The painfully obvious point, which apparently must be explained to our President and the majority of our Congressional Representatives who have no experience in the military themselves, is that the benefits for the military have to be better in order to attract people to our all-volunteer military. Take away the benefits and, all of the sudden, serving your country no longer seems worth the struggle and hassle. And should (fingers crossed) our economy improve, we will need some especially compelling reasons to attract people to military service in the future. I hope and pray the President and Congress don’t destroy the incentives before then.