America likes the idea that we have made a solemn promise to generously compensate our military service members. After all, the argument goes, how can we ever fully repay them for risking their lives for us? Providing  benefits like low-cost premium health care, comfortable pensions, housing allowances, grocery discounts, tuition assistance, tax breaks and much more, feels like the right and honorable response.

Because so few serve on behalf of the rest of us, the nation has wanted to ensure we give the very best to those who risk death on the battlefield. Americans view it as their obligation, as well, to take exquisite care of those personnel and their families after they return from combat.

There is, however, another unspoken contract between Americans and our forces in uniform: we will make sure you get the best weapons and technology, along with the best intelligence, training and logistics money can buy. The goal is simple: we want to ensure you are never in a fair fight. Should fighting start, we tell them, we’ve done everything we can to make sure the enemy will die and you will live.

Today, as defense budgets fall, these two sacred promises by Americans with their military are in direct conflict. Though few seem to realize it, including the ones financially securing those obligations (i.e., taxpayers and Congress) and those living it (soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and their families).

Both promises are now being called into question and risk unraveling as the military endures its third year of defense budget cuts, including sequestration. No longer can the military expect the same pay, benefits or world-class facilities and access without realizing that they increasingly come at the expense of combat power, innovation, training, readiness and modernization.

Yet policymakers still ignore the stark choice that now confronts them. During the recent mark-up of the president’s 2014 defense budget by the House Armed Services Committee, members of Congress showed that they want to continue to fund generous compensation and benefits regardless of the negative impact on funds needed for the equally important priorities of training, maintenance, readiness, modernization and innovation.

Congress will now not be able to rapidly reverse declining readiness, training and maintenance backlogs across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Lawmakers’ decision to keep excess domestic bases on the books for yet another year, for example, virtually ensures that more money will be taken out of modernization and innovation. By not shrinking the large Pentagon civilian workforce, Congress and the Obama Administration will likely wind up further delaying the overdue upkeep of ships, vehicles and aircraft across the service’s aging fleets.

It is noble and important that America continues to maintain its contract with those who serve by providing them with generous compensation. But it is harmful to those very same troops to undercut the other contract that demands they get the best equipment and training along with a state of high readiness for whatever the nation asks of them.

In these uncertain economic times, the President and Congress must strike a better balance between arming our military with the latest cutting-edge capabilities and wide-ranging benefits ranging from bases to compensation.


  • UH34D

    Maybe if someone would take the bull by the horns regarding the wasted billions by the military-industrial complex, we wouldn’t have this problem. Contract oversight is abysmal, cost overruns pathetic, too much costly reliance on private outsourcing, etc. The V-22 is operational but, at what cost? The F-35 is struggling to cover multiple demands on an airframe with massive cost overruns. The Littoral ships the Navy wants is a problem. Private contractors performing military rolls is a problem. The list goes on and on. One has to wonder if members of Congress want it this way in order to make sure the right entities fill their pockets with taxpayers money. Look at the Abrams, Army doesn’t want anymore but, Congress demands they still be built.
    Sorry to say but, members of Congress are bought and paid for by these entities.

    • James Hasik

      “members of Congress are bought and paid for by these entities”? That is a serious charge. If you can prove it, do so! But note that the consensus in the academic literature holds that the industrial leg of this supposed M-I-C iron triangle is the least influential. The Navy has the LCS because Admiral Clark wanted it. The Marines have the V-22 because most of the Corps wanted it. The three jet-flying services would up with the F-35 because, well, that’s a long story. But don’t blame industry for the military’s asking the impossible.

  • career vet with kids serving

    This is just wonderful – to simplify the author’s thesis …. “Save the poor sailors, marines, airman and troops from themselves because if you don’t cut their compensation and benefits they will have nothing to defend the 98% that don’t serve with”. In the South, you would just say “Bless their heart”.

    The facts are real … equipment costs; people cost; defense resourcing is being reduced. Unfortunately, the taxpayer, Nation, and its elected and none elected leadership want it all to be done for less and certainly at no cost to “me”. The 10 lb paper bag is full. The paper is breaking and the first things that will fall out of the bag are the best of the talented uniformed military who care more about service than treasure. These are the folks that are and will continue to leave in large numbers because they have options. They see the falsity of the 98% non-servers “thanks for your service handshakes”; our nation’s lack of real support to fund the job properly or to make the hard decisions of what not to do.

  • Lop_Eared_Galoot

    Anthropoidal Robotics people. They only need to be trained to competency once rather than on a ‘four year plan’ of replacement. They can be held in a box in a warehouse at a depot, ready to be BIT tested and airdropped into combat like wooden rounds. They have no family to miss them or demand medical for dependents. They can go 24:7:365. And they are gracefully redundant in that they are still as lethal after 20 years as 2 days off the line but if ever outmoded, don’t ‘mind’ being switched over to secondary roles like CS/CSS. Because they aren’t paid. Robotics are the only way to save a nation which doesn’t work. And they can begin as milspec technology because they are also the only way to do infantry warfare in a condition where the enemy kills from a distance with IEDs.

    We seriously need to ask if the resources we wasted levering up Iraq (walked away from 120 billion barrels in known reserves and another 40 in unexploiteds at a time when all of OPEC was playing futures games with our pricing) and AfG (a hole from Alexander’s time is still a hole) were worth the 800 billion and change spent hunting down one man for 10 years…by _not_ going into the country that sheltered him!

    If we want to occupy and uplift, we need one kind of force. If we simply want to win, we need another. And again, _robotics_ and a serious emphasis on them as bipedal androids, not EOD RC Tank level effectors is a great way to bridge the gap with force fill on demand and a -very much- **smaller** manned force in peace time.

    As for those who believe that this will leave America weakened, I remind you that our presence on Saudi holy dirt is what ticked off so many Arabs and formed the basis of the 9/11 ‘far enemy’ justification when multiple warning shots fired across the bows of the Cole, the Khobar Towers and the African Embassies didn’t get our attention. It was their soil and if they didn’t want us on it, we had no business being there, putting the Nelson on a fellow muslim state (one which they did not feel enough of a threat to contribute forces to even the ONW/OSW mission).

    It is my contention that that deployment, nominally to contain a beaten foe whose army hadn’t had major spares and service support in /years/ was to provide justification for not drawing down a Cold War force through multiple iterations of BUR, QDR and BRAC. Because generals need billets to command.

    Had we not had the means to deploy so many forces in constant rotation, we would not have invited attacks on our civilian population. Of course, if you exile an OPEC member, you force other oil states to increase their production to compensate which means that someone gets a kickback. This explains the political half of the bargain as $1.35 a gallon gasoline in a period when Clinton couldn’t sell off our remaining industrial manufacturing capabilities fast enough and regions like Europe had been paying $7.00 a /liter/ for decades.

    UBL had no right to attack the Twin Towers as a deliberate Civilian Mazcat act of terrorism. His was an act of cowardice because he knew that Saudi intelligence would take away his money and run him into the ground if he tried to clean house in The Kingdom. But our extended military presence to no ultimate gain provided him the motive for his madness as half the world cheered.

    The U.S. Armed Forces have always existed to provide an escape plan for those looking to get out of urban and rural poverty and gain a liveable life. I would suggest that if you are desperate enough to risk death as mutilation, they will remain so because this nation is headed towards a receivership at a rapid rate and poverty will rise because of it.

    That this best-of-the-least condition can be further metered for quality by the entry exam minimum bar standards is a given _provided_ we cut to a force size which can be met with realistic recruiting goals.

    Finally, this will not be the first time that economic realities have dictated ‘betraying the troops’-×3702540

    Figures as notable as MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton all did their duty in forcing soldiers to accept the conditions of the era and while Congress ultimately intervened on their behalf, it MUST be remembered that simply throwing cash at a problem doesn’t mean anything if the moneys allocated are as worthless as the German mark was in the 1920s.

    We are headed towards exactly these conditions of second-dip devaluation of our currency and incredible inflationary loss of purchasing power _at home, in the civilian world_, simply because of all the Quantitative Easing by which we have ‘printed answer$’ to as an excuse to not making hard choices in enforcing fiscal constraint.

    Aftershock or Early Warning?

    When billionaires start an exodus from the markets if not the country, dumping millions of shares in critical housekeeping areas of our economy as consumer goods and banking, it means that they have NO CONFIDENCE in the survivability of our _civilian_ infrastructure.

    At which point you know it’s about to get bad. Real bad.

    And when it does, Americans will be cursing the military as they did in the Vietnam adventure because the troops will be called out to keep order as those they are supposed to protect riot for food. Again, just like they did in Germany.

    Indeed, in Germany, the solution to being broke was the dissolution of the state, the raping of natural resources by foreign powers and the institution of a national labor policy that was as near to slavery as you could get while a new currency gained value on the backs of Germans acting much as the Chinese now do in powerhousing the European economy through the Depression by supplying cheap goods for next to no wages as an entire population starved.

    THINK people. These are adults. They may be young but they know what a bullet can do and they signed up anyway. We are also adults and must consider whether the defense of our country, so long certain that we do not even /have/ viable border defenses against illegal immigration, let alone terror nukes, must come at the cost of impoverishing a nation that is itself teetering on the brink of a second major Depressionary plunge.

    If we cannot innovate (because our socialist masters say we must take care of the existing overhead of uniformed population as a fixed and irreducible percentage of the military budget) we cannot do what Americans have always done which is to compensate for numbers with technology and tactics. Achieving more with less.

    Cutting all existing force structures in half would allow for some hard choices to be made a lot easier. We would certainly not need the JSF for instance and could begin a new fighter design that was actually effective in that role while force-filling with new manufacture of existing designs on a limited attritional replacement basis. We could also likely pay for the SLEPing of 8 carriers and their associated battlegroup escorts with the retirement of four and the non-event foregoing of the CVN-78 class and design a frigate that had some teeth instead of accepting a speedboat with guns as the LCS. Ground forces also do not need to be of a massive size to defeat threats like Iraq -provided- we do not engage the enemy only at the point of LOS contact and -given- we do not attempt to police the aftermath out of barbarism and into something like a nation state. We will never fight China with massed ground forces as in WWII. Lastly, the notion that this country requires FOUR air forces simply because of basing modes (‘jointness’ means we use the same munitions as tactics) is ridiculous. Most especially for the Army which is the largest airpower service on the planet and has never won a war with helicopters.

    There is so much we could do to improve our national defense.

    If we were allowed to fix what is broken by discarding what isn’t necessary to win.

  • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

    If I was a soldier my only concern in battle would be if I get into a situation and needed it the whole dam Army would be there in support to keep from getting killed, maimed or captured. Far as home life this country is in trouble with the medical fields out of control and the politicians wasting dollars. There is probably no answers for either one of those.

  • Paul McKeon

    Completely disagree with this article. Casting military pay and benefits as the villian during wartime is reprehensible when the military has bourne all the costs of 2 long wars while the rest of society has not suffered one bit. Also, the choice the author makes between military pay/benefits and weapon systems is a false choice. She perpetuates the myth of exploding costs in pay and benefits when in actuality personnel costs make up the same % of DOD’s budget today (about 30%) as they did 30 years ago. SHe also fails to mention DOD has underspent its health care budget by over $2.5 billion over the last 3 years and in fact, diverted that money to other, non-health care expenses. Finally, the author makes no mention of the disastrous impacts on military retention that would occur if shortsighted and ill-conceived cuts were made to the personnel budget as has happened in the past. The author should have done a better job researching the issue and would have found that military benefits need not and should not be slashed.