Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Editorial: One Grunt's Opinion On Changes to Military Retirement

I have been laying off writing of anything about the proposed changes to the military retirement system being talked about because I realize for the vast majority of Americans they could really care less, and in their single-minded focus of making everything fair game honestly believe that changes can be made with no harm. There is another very small minority of far left that feel if this will further weaken the American warmaking machinery then they are all for it. They are not driven by any fiscal sense of responsibility, but rather an irrational hatred of the military.

With that in mind, I wanted to try and acquaint readers of some aspects of military life that while they may be aware of, do not truly appreciate the full consequences of, and why among the benefits military personnel look forward to, the retirement plan is probably the most important.

Right up front let me say that if you are enlisted and do your 20 and retire you are not going to be able to live off of it. I retired in 1999 and my annual retired pay is about $14K. Not exactly what you would call extravagant.

So what did I have to do to earn this windfall? For starters I endured low pay, long hours, frequent separations and the attention of folks who really didn't think too highly of those of us in uniform and would from time to time try to put a .30 caliber punctuation mark on those feelings.

When I took my final physical upon leaving the Army they pumped me full of dye and did an x-ray. It was revealed that I had a grand total of 2 bones which showed no signs of damage or breakage. The right shoulder blade and the left femur. Every other bone in my body at some time in the previous 20+ years had either been broke or damaged enough that it showed up on this x-ray. Granted, a lot of them were what is called stress fractures like the collar bones and the toes. I have knees with no cartilage and joints that aren't. I wear the scars of knife marks, shrapnel, and bullet grazes. And all of this was accomplished while serving during a period when we were at peace. Well except for Grenada, Haiti, Panama, Somalia, East-West Germany, Desert Storm ... you get the point.

The physical toll is just one aspect. There is the mental toll not only on the service member but for anybody foolish enough to become a part of their life. It is the 2 am phone call with a voice on the other end informing you that your unit is on alert and you have less then 2 hours to get to base, get your unit organized and ready to deploy. Even before you hang up the spouse has turned the TV to a news network to try and glean some information about what little corner of the world has suddenly gone to shit and the only answer is the United States. You go to the bathroom for a quick brush of the teeth and to shave because you don't know when the next time is you will see running water. You grab your bags, already packed, and embrace for what may be the last time and as you close the door she is left with her fears, knowing it may be days or even weeks before she hears from you again.

If your children have the television station numbers memorized for the cable news outlets by the time they are 8, then you know of which I speak. Thank goodness for DoD schools too, where when asked what your daddy does for a living and the response is "kill people," nobody bats an eye and knows right away that he is in the Infantry. Or if they say "jump out of airplanes," then they know he ain't right. When they are asked where is your dad you ask them for a globe to point it out and the inevitable answer to when is he going to be back is a shrug of the shoulders.

If you aren't awakon out of a good night's sleep it may be the orders you received assigning you overseas. An assignment that does not allow you to bring your family for the year you will be gone.

So for any of you that want to use that shared sacrifice argument I am waiting to hear your side. For those that think being in the military is just a 9-5 job where you get to hop down to a bar after a hard day of chasing jihadis, dodging bullets or defusing IED's, I really look forward to your tales of how writing 10 pages of C++ code compares. I'm sure somebody can tell me how an 8-hour shift on your feet at a retail store equates to launching multimillion dollar aircraft off of the deck of an aircraft carrier. Who wouldn't trade a job selling car parts for loading 500 pound ordnance onto the wing of an aircraft.

There is very little that service in the military guarantees you. One is that if you survive today you get to do it all over again tomorrow, and the second is the 20 year retirement. Health care bit the dust long ago, and while the program is still active we pay for it just like ya'll. Lower premiums sure, but the copays are about the same.

If they mess with the military retirement in the manner they are proposing they may never recover from effects in terms of military readiness. It is not a regular job and to try and make those comparisons is both foolish and foolhardy.


CenTexTim said...

I second your comments re: military life. My father was career military (Army during WWII; Air Force afterwards). I did a tour with a Quick Reaction Force a few decades back. Your comments are spot-on.

If we didn't see this (or something similar) coming when obama was elected we certainly should have been worried when Panetta was appointed Sec. of Defense.

D.W. Drang said...

And another thing...
It's not a pension.  It says "retired" behind my name, but that simply means I'm in the Retired Reserves.  Theoretically, the President can call me back to harness right up until the day I die. 
Comforting thought, that...

Andy Collins said...

I was only a "one-hitch wonder" when I served but loved the life. Circumstances intervened and I took off my boots to live on civvy street. But about half the folks I work with are military retirees and our direct customers are young soldiers learning to fly. I don't think "betrayal" is too strong a word for what is being comptemplated here. From a national security standpoint, this is ridiculous. Do they actually expect folks to line up at the recruiters office in hopes of eventually getting a 401k they could get from any other job? Oh, I'm sorry, I meant any other job that you probably WON'T get shot at? What about servicemen and servicewomen with 10 or 15 years in? If they pass legislation on this, I won't blame anyone for not re-enlisting.

Andy Collins said...

Also, I'd like to underscore the physical toll military life exacts. After just one active hitch (and one reserve), I have worn out cartilege in one knee and definitive loss of hearing in one ear. My father was medically discharged with the bones of one arm shattered, requiring several surgeries to repair and leaving him with only about 40% strength in that arm. Every military retiree I know (and I know A LOT of 'em) suffers from back, knee, shoulder pain and loss of hearing etc. You simply cannot undergo the rigors of that lifestyle for 20 or more years without paying a steep price. And we expect kids to volunteer for that life when they'd be better off financially to start entry-level at McDonalds?

RamblingMother said...

leave it to the government to ruin the military.  I agree you can't compare jobs between military and non-military businesses