Leadership: August 6, 2003

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The U.S. Army brass are hearing some old grievances from the troops, but with rather more bitterness. Problems that have been put up with for years are now rather less tolerable because of the strains of constant overseas deployment in the war on terror. The Army may have no choice but to ask Congress for some more money, actually a lot more money, to fix the problems or see the volunteer force lose it's volunteer spirit, and a lot of its troops. For the career troops, the biggest gripe is the health care for dependents and military retirees is constantly cut back. The bureaucracy and co-pays for dependent health care  a growing expense for the troops. The root problems here is that the Department of Defense never adapted, fiscally, to the fact that the all volunteer military would have more than twice as many married troops. With the troops out of the country so much, the spouse left behind has to deal with the military medial bureaucracy all alone. And it's not been pleasant at all.

Pay is a larger problem with the troops deployed overseas so much. While the all-volunteer force was based on the military competing in the labor market for people, the troops see the job as more than they bargained for if they are overseas a lot. Related to the money problem is the issue of retirement pay. It used to be half pay after 20 years service, now it is 35 percent. Attempts to restore the 50 percent retirement pay have failed. The main reason Congress is reluctant to go back to 50 percent is that because of the all volunteer force; a higher percentage of troops stay in for twenty years. But with 35 percent pay at retirement, a lot of the more able troops are not going for twenty. An additional reason for getting out is the housing situation. The military has never kept up with providing adequate housing for families on, or even near, bases. Again, the issue is cost. 

Now with all the money be thrown at defense, you'd think there would be enough to take care of these personnel issues. But the troops know why it is not happening. They see the brass as more dedicated to getting new, high tech, weapons they don't need. The defense budget is more political than military, always has been. Members of Congress expect some payback if they support increased defense spending. That means expensive new weapons, or maintaining bases that are no longer needed. The troops can do the math, and they have developed a low opinion of Congress and their own generals and admirals for not being honest about how this works. 

With the stress of the war on terror, a lot of troops are showing their disgust for all this by not staying in uniform. While new recruits are being brought in, a lot of more experienced people are getting restless, and gone. Lose enough of the career troops, and you lose the edge that has produced quick victories and low casualties.

 


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