William Hamilton: National defense: The coming cuts
June 3, 2011
Recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he worries about a “hollowing out” of our armed forces. During the Eisenhower years, the Army was “hollowed out.” Then, the big threat was nuclear war with the Soviet Union, so Congress put the big bucks into strategic weapons, meaning the Strategic Air Command with its nuclear bombers and into the Navy to develop nuclear submarines. Many Army units had only a small cadre of officers and NCOs. In wartime, the “hollowed out” Army units were to be filled with hastily-trained draftees.
But that was back then. Today, the threat posed by radical Islam is putting more money into special operations forces, light infantry brigades and into the Marines. That is not to say that a resurgent Russia under Vladimir Putin and the burgeoning military of Red China are not significant threats. We are always going to have to bear the expense of the technology that provides us air superiority where we need it and to continue the Navy’s historic mission of freedom-of-the-seas for peaceful maritime commerce.
The O’Bamessiahs want to cut $400 billion from national defense. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and now Secretary Gates have already ash-canned some really high-dollar weapons systems that were more suited to defending the Fulda Gap against Soviet invasion than finding and eliminating evil masterminds such as Osama bin Laden.
But looking back over 50 years of being involved with the military in one way or another, odds are the cuts will fall hardest on the troops and their families. No doubt, military retirement and medical care will be on the chopping block.
Back in 1958, a married, second lieutenant entering active duty with a college degree earned a taxable $222.30 per month, along with about $50 for food, and $110 for off-post housing. A buck private (assumed to be a high-school draftee) got $78; however, room and board were provided in the form of a barracks and a mess hall. (See: 37 USC Chapter 7.)
Meanwhile, a similar college graduate in civilian life was taking home three times more money. When asked why military pay was so comparatively low, the Army said we were going to receive “deferred compensation,” meaning: The money you were not required to pay into a retirement system was being withheld and would be available to you later; provided, you made it through 20 years of military service.
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In return for 20 years service, you would start getting back your “deferred compensation” at one-half of the pay for the rank at which you retired, plus VA medical care. If you made it to 30 years, you got three-quarter pay, and VA medical care.
At the time, only 6 percent of those second lieutenants who entered on active duty were making it to 20 years of service. So, “deferred compensation” meant that 94-percent of the Army’s management trainees (second lieutenants) would never serve long enough and/or live long enough to qualify for any retirement benefits. The figures were far worse for enlisted personnel.
The other oddity is that the active-duty pay and retirement pay of combat-arms officers and NCOs who go repeatedly in harm’s way and suffer incredible physical hardships are the same as those who serve in the rear-echelon branches which, by the way, provide vital support to the 20-percent of the armed forces who do the actual fighting. But it does seem odd.
When a service member is actually performing certain hazardous duties, there is some extra pay; however, that doesn’t carry on into retirement. So, irrespective of previous risks or physical hardships, retirement pay is essentially the same for all. Obviously, the system needs some overhaul; however, history tells us much of that $400 billion will come out of the hides of the troops and their families.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, served 20 years on active duty. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
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