The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced this past weekend that the service chiefs have agreed to a plan that would reign in the unprecedented expansion in servicemember’s benefits. Not particularly surprising, really. As the wars come to an end the enticements that have been used to recruit and retain an all volunteer force become less affordable than they were before. During the Global War on Terror, millions of young men and women entered the armed forces, and a great many of them deployed overseas to fight for the nation.
The goodwill that the nation felt towards the military, coupled with the real need for expansion, resulted in tremendous growth in terms of pay and benefits for those in uniform. Countless millions of dollars have been spent on education, health, housing, and other benefits that were either not in existence before the wars began or grew exponentially in scope and cost.
That cost has become prohibitive, however. In the words of General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
“What we have asked these young men and women to do over the last 10 years, we can’t pay them enough. Having said that, we also have an institution to manage.”
The chairman also pointed out the cost in real terms. The DOD spends approximately half of its annual budget on personnel, and if things continue on as projected the cost will grow another ten percent. It is untenable for the military to function with 60 cents from every dollar spent on the people who make up the military.
The good news, though, is that the current retirement plan will not be affected. At least not for people in uniform currently that is. It may very well change in the future, but it is for the moment safe from the budgetman’s axe.
At any rate, the “peace dividend” of the end of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will come at the expense of the Department of Defense. It seems like the Joint Chiefs have finally realized the incontrovertable truth that with the end of war comes the lack of desire to pay for the military that fought it. It is not a bad thing that the military retracts when there are no wars to fight, but the retraction must be thoughtfully done.
I just hope that those who make such decisions ensure that the military is ready for the next war.
And there is always another war.