By C. Todd LopezFebruary 16, 2012
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 16, 2012) -- The senior enlisted advisors for the four military services met on Capitol Hill today to discuss with lawmakers issues on the minds of service members. It turns out that for many, it's the same as what's on lawmaker's minds: the budget.
"I was asked questions, beginning in April, all the way to September -- 'what do you mean the Army can't pay me?'," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III, relaying to lawmakers the words of Soldiers who had been concerned about the "continuing resolution" last year. Without an approved Defense Appropriations Act, some Soldiers mistakenly believed that they might not get paid.
Budget concerns still weigh on the minds of service members, as lawmakers try to find a way to balance the federal budget. Lawmakers who were part of the "super committee" last year were looking to find $1.2 trillion in savings within the budget, and were unable to reach a compromise. Now, as much as half of that amount could automatically be cut from the DOD through "sequestration" and service members are concerned what that will mean for them.
"It's a very eye-opening experience," said Chandler "I think the concerns raised in media about the impact of the election year and whether or not there will be an appropriations and authorization bill signed, is on people's minds. The last thing we want to have is for some Soldier, Sailor, Airman of Marine deployed in harm's way, being concerned about whether or not they are going to be paid. That's something we don't need these young people to be concerned about."
The senior enlisted advisors gathered Feb. 16 to speak at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee, subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Michael P. Barrett said that when he had talked to Marines about the effects of a continuing resolution, some of those Marines had considered visiting "the snakes," to make ends meet -- a term Barrett said they used to refer to the "predatory loan industry" prominent outside military installations.
"They are still finding a way to put 400 percent on top of a loan for you to pay it back," he said.
Service members are also concerned about their retirements, with rumors of changes being considered as part of budget-trimming efforts. The senior enlisted advisors said retirement is not something that should be on the minds of a young person in uniform.
"It is a distractor," said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy. "We have young Airmen focused on retirement. I don't need young Airmen focused on retirement. I need young Airmen focused on upgrade training. I need young Airmen focused on mission. I don't need them to be worried on their retirement and compensation. That is the number-one thing I hear from Airmen, and from families. There is uncertainty out there and we are trying to keep focus on the mission."
Across the world's oceans, America's Sailors are worried about their futures in the military as well, said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick D. West.
"They're talking about the retirements," West explained. "They are talking about the future of the force, with the budget cuts, with all the personnel. We've had to make some tough choices. With our folks, it's no different. The budget cuts as of late -- some folks will tell you, personnel didn't join the Navy for the retirement. Maybe they didn't initially. But once they get in and see the contributions they make to the nation, they start thinking about some of that."
Service members that want to stay in uniform are also going to find it harder to do so. The Army and the Marine Corps, for instance, are cutting personnel. That means, for both services, fewer fresh faces coming in the front door, older service members possibly retiring before they expected to retire, and service members in the middle of their careers finding it tougher to meet the standards to re-enlist.
"They want to know who we are going to go fight next," said Barrett. "They want to know about advancements in full-spectrum battle equipment [and] they want to know what they need to do to stay in the Corps."
The Marine senior enlisted advisor told lawmakers what Marines ask him most about when he visits them. To the last question, he answers, "you'd better bring your A game every single day."
Inside the larger of the two ground forces, the Army, Chandler said "the privilege to serve will become more difficult." Standards will increase, he said. And to draw down the force, the Army will use multiple tools -- including fewer new recruits, tougher retention standards, and early retirements.
For those who will leave, he said, the Army will "have an orderly transition plan starting a year before they leave the service."
That, the sergeant major said, will make sure both Soldiers and their families are ready, and are able to leave the Army "with dignity and respect."
What a service member will do after military life is also a concern. Chandler said there are "tremendous concerns" among Soldiers leaving the service given the state of the economy and the job market. The Army and its sister services are working to make smooth the transition for service members.
"That is a major focus for me personally and the rest of the Army this year is to really refine our transition assistance program with the help of VA and DOL and to put our kids in the best place we can to make sure they have a dignified transition out of the service and back into the rest of American society," Chandler said.