The White House’s plan to Balance the Nation’s Budget Problems by using the Military Servicemember’s Retirement System is Wrong!

For last few weeks, some of my closest aviator friends and I have been discussing the current White House’s apparent lack of respect for the military and the nation’s budget problems. In fact one friend had been asked to review a suggestion by the White House to do away with the current military retirement system.

Today, August 15, 2011, Fox News reported indeed the White House would like to trim the Department of Defense budget by eliminating the current retirement system. Instead, of 50% of base pay after 20 years, while you’re dodging bullets, you have the benefit of knowing your 401(k) contribution will be reduced since you’re in a combat zone. So who is to pay your retirement portion? – Why you and your family of course. Your current pay will be reduced as you pay the member contribution portion of this White House plan to reduce the budget. How much money did the White House send to those failing Banks? Hmmm that plan worked well.

Paraphrasing the White House’s campaign slogan of “Hope and Change” there is also “hope” if you’re over age 50. The White House is thinking of providing a break in the amount those over 50 are required to pay into this Thrifty retirement plan.

Military members earn every penny of their current retirement. In contrast I fail to see the sacrifice social programs are being asked. I understand welfare assistance is to help people, often people who through no fault of their own need financial assistance. But you cannot compare the military to the civilian working world. If I did then an enlistee need not work to be paid, combat – – “Sarge I think I will sit this one out and get my pay, it is scary over there, and I like to be home with the wife and kids by 6 PM (commute you know).” … “Call me when you get back Colonel, I want to see the pictures you took on your “vacation to Iraq and Afghanistan.” Oh yeah Colonel I know the responsibility of waging a war you did not start is tough, keeping track of all those servicemember’s lives (I refer to as our National Treasure – Thanks Gen. Keys you said it well years ago), but remember your 401(k) retirement co-pay will be reduced, so there you go living off the taxpayers again Colonel.”

The White House plan shows a total lack of understanding of the hardships and inherent differences in the military and civilian world. For those of you who have retired, you understand the difficulties in moving every 2 to 3 years, having to deploy to combat zones, leaving your family to protect the nation, training where people die, the responsibility for protecting people’s lives, carrying out missions, to kill the enemy, and not being guaranteed to go home from work every day.

Years ago when I was teaching at the Air Command and Staff College, one of my bosses asked me if this was the toughest job I had ever accomplished. I told her no ma’am, and she got upset. This Lt. Colonel was a great officer. Once I replied that “no matter how bad my class went [that day], there was zero chance I would be a smoking hole on CNN.” She stopped, and then told me she had never thought of that stress or possibility, although she was a USAF aircraft maintenance officer.

It seems to me once again a similar mindset is coming from the White House. No respect for military members. The White House comparing the military retirement system to the civilian world is misguided at best or shows contempt for the military member and their family at worst. Dollars and cents are dollars and cents. But the comparison is fatally flawed – the military is not the equivalent of a civilian job.

The Fox News article points out the White House position by making the statement – enlisted people are paid at the top 25% pay level for high school graduates. This analogy is also flawed. To remain in the military, an enlisted member at the end of 20 years will have a bachelor’s, and often a Masters or two, or even a PhD. The young men and women enlisted because of a love of country or maybe to have a job. The reasons are as varied as the servicemember, Patriotism is always high on the list or reasons to join and then to stay for retirement. To retire that servicemember GAVE their life and LOVE of country to protect all Americans and our Allies. Concluding the military retirement is not fair based upon a dollars and cents comparison to a civilian career is misguided and wrong.

The Fox News article further points out officers were also paid in the top 25% of “wage earners” for the nation. But for every officer who retired in their mid 40s to mid 50s, they made the choice to protect their country and they too sacrificed. The decision to remain in the military meant foregoing numerous more lucrative employment opportunities, foregoing better family time, and foregoing a job that did not involve combat.

Comparing a civilian 401(k) pension to a military retirement is misguided and wrong. Yes the military member is a federal employee. This is where the similarity ends. Every time someone states it is not fair to provide such a nice retirement system for military retirees shows that person needs to understand the military is not a civilian job. The military is different, ask a recruit who is hurt in basic and carries that injury for the rest of their life. People are permanently hurt everyday in the military. If you want the numbers look up today’s VA disability claims.

There are many things in life that are not fair. An E-1 with less than 4 months of service earns a monthly pay of $1339, but 4 months later this pay jumps to $1447 a month. At the $1447 rate for a 40 hour work week the pay is $9.04 an hour. But what about the 168 hour work week (combat, alert, deployment, TDY, etc.)? The pay drops to $2.15 an hour for this week.

Civilian employers normally cannot order you into combat, there are laws prohibiting working more than so many hours (salaried employees may work many more hours than 40) a week. Additionally there are many hazardous and / or technical civilian jobs (miner, airline pilot, engineer, etc), but they get paid more compensation for their skills, responsibility, and / or the danger, etc. Years ago if I had left for the airlines my lifetime earnings would have been over $1,000,000 more versus the military lifetime earnings and retirement. I made a choice I loved protecting my country.

Balancing the nation’s budget problems on the military servicemember’s backs is wrong. Troops are still in need of equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the White House is willing to take away their retirement system. I predict the annual attack on TRICARE WILL SOON FOLLOW.

Sometimes “Change” is just wrong.

Write your Senator and Congressperson to tell them to stop the proposal to change military retirement now – – you may contact your Senator and Congressperson through this link:

Contact Information