Exclusive: Defense Cuts: Guns or Troops?
by CHET NAGLE
June 8, 2010
“There is a rank due to the United States, among nations, which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness.”
It is official. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn says we cannot afford guns and butter. So what happens? Do we fund the weapons or the troops who use them? One thing is certain: no one is going to be happy.
Last week Lynn confirmed what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said during a speech at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas: Major cuts are coming. No doubt the library venue was selected because Gates had to pander to the liberal wing of the Obama administration by resurrecting Ike’s warnings about a “military industrial complex” and a “garrison state.” Old slogans never die, especially when money for defense is involved.
What Lynn said was that the Department of Defense (DoD) would kill part or all of some weapon buys in order to come up with $100 billion. Since the White House intends to flatline the defense budget for years, the funds made available by these new “efficiencies” will be needed just to maintain current force levels. What will get canceled or reduced? The crosshairs are moving toward the F-35 and F-22 fighters, the Marines’ amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, unspecified hardware and, of course, the troops.
We will not know exactly which weapons go on the chopping block until Washington finishes horse trading. Lobbyists worry about how campaign contributions promote their clients’ programs, politicians worry about factories in their districts, and the White House worries about looking weak on defense in the coming elections. But that $100 billion “efficiency” money will not solve the toughest DoD problem: the payroll.
No one in the Obama administration worries much about the troops and their families. After all, they do not have a union, and the White House figures they will follow Pentagon orders anyway. But the fact is, increases in pay and benefits that Congress will provide the military in the next few years will ultimately grow to unmanageable proportions. The underlying factor in calculations of military pay and benefits is the sheer size of the armed forces. DoD has about 2,250,000 people on its payroll, more employees than the Post Office and Wal-Mart combined, and is the biggest employer in America.
In just the last ten years the total cost to pay and care for each active duty serviceman has increased from $73,300 to $126,800. Healthcare for soldiers and families is also rising at an unsustainable rate. The Department of Defense budget now provides lifetime healthcare for 9.6 million active and retired troops, the Guard, the Reserve, and all their families. Healthcare costs amount to $50.7 billion, almost 10% of the entire DoD budget.
These figures have led the Obama administration to plead with Congress to decrease pay raises the lawmakers have proposed to give the military. One of the arguments used by the White House is that service members are better paid than private sector workers with similar experience and education. They cite the example of an average Army sergeant with four years of service and one dependent as receiving $52,589 as his annual paycheck. That amount includes basic pay, subsistence and housing allowances.
But another argument would compare that sergeant to a unionized US Postal Service letter supervisor who, with no risk of getting killed in a war, is paid $80,000 a year, plus significant benefits. Better yet, compare it to Congress. Our hard-working representatives on Capitol Hill gave themselves a $4,700 raise this year, bringing the salary of each congressman to $174, 000 per year, plus a generous guaranteed healthcare plan, plus a great pension plan, plus a cost of living allowance. That same Congress froze COLA (cost of living allowances) for those receiving Social Security checks—and froze it indefinitely.
The Pentagon must admit, however, current military pay levels have resulted in increased reenlistment rates. Recruiting last year was the best since the establishment of the volunteer Army in 1973. And 60% of Navy spouses wanted their sailor to make a career of the Navy, up from only 20% in 2005.
When all is said, what is to be done? The bright side of the economic meltdown, another crisis the Obama administration cannot seem to control, is that tight money will force a sweeping review of America’s global strategy and tactics. Assuming President Obama will allow our warfighters to name the Islamists as our enemy, and to allow them to study Islamist plans to dominate us, there would be a dramatic change in DoD hardware and research and development programs. Naming the Islamist enemy would also make us safer at home. The national interest is also well served by independent examinations of how best to defend the Republic against a multiplying myriad of asymmetrical threats. As we arm ourselves with better weapons against that death of a thousand cuts, we must also maintain and modernize our strategic nuclear deterrent—just as the Russians and Chinese are doing.
Of course, if we are to provide a decent life for the members of our military, their wives, widows, and children—and we must—then things like programs for $11 billion aircraft carriers should be converted into military paychecks, healthcare, and honorable retirement.
If we fail in this vital work, the Islamist barbarians at the gate and those already in our midst will subvert us and destroy our Constitutional liberties. It is already happening, President Obama.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Chet Nagle is a Naval Academy graduate and Cold War carrier pilot who flew in the Cuban Missile Crisis. After a stint as a navy research officer, he joined International Security Affairs as a Pentagon civilian - then came defense and intelligence work, life abroad for 12 years as an agent for the CIA, and extensive time in Iran, Oman, and many other countries. Along the way, he graduated from the Georgetown University Law School and was the founding publisher of a geo-political magazine, The Journal of Defense & Diplomacy, read in over 20 countries and with a circulation of 26,000. At the end of his work in the Middle East, he was awarded the Order of Oman in that allied nation's victory over communist Yemen; now, he writes and consults. He and his wife Dorothy live in Virginia.