Are We or Aren’t We—A Force of One?

February 11, 2014

Did you read this headline?

“Funding Rift Pits Active Army Against Reserves” 

How about this one?

“Guard Fight Gets Ugly”

These headlines were precipitated by remarks from Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno at a recent National Press Club discussion on military budget cuts. During the event, he said “the National Guard would not be capable of taking on more of the active duty force’s responsibilities if the active force structure falls much below the 490,000 floor that the chief set for 2015.”

He went on to defend his comments by explaining the difference between the active duty and Army National Guard: “The capabilities are not interchangeable,” Odierno said. “There’s a reason why the active component is more expensive. It brings you a higher level of readiness, because they’re full time.”

For reasons obvious to military, veterans and families, Odierno’s comments were not well received, sparking a flurry of pushback and public comment from members of Congress, military and veterans service organizations, and the larger military community.

Around the same time, other headlines have surfaced, like:

It’s Time to Cut Military Health and Pension Benefits

And for a hearing on the military retirement system, the statement from the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. said:

“…indeed we are hearing from our people that [members of our all-volunteer force are] much more concerned about their quality of life, their ability to continue serving in a modern and ready force, than they are about maintaining the trajectory of compensation that closed previous gaps

Here’s a visual for you of my reactions from these and other recent headlines and hearings.

…Head in hands, pulling hair, shaking head

…Blood boiling, blood pressure rising

…Disbelief followed by a verbal, “Are you kidding me?”

…Deep breath … I’ve got to say something!

Here goes … My Dear Pentagon Letter…

Dear Pentagon Officials,

As a military retiree, veteran and family member of a long line of those who have served and are serving our country, I have four words to say about the management of the defense budget and the care and support of our troops, veterans and their families: What are you thinking?

When I read official statements in the press or in testimony on the Hill such as, “the one-third of the defense budget consumed by military compensation cannot be exempt as an area of defense savings,” or, “pension and health care costs are eating the U.S. military alive,” or, “Guard soldiers are not interchangeable with the active Army,” I have to ask you, what kind of message are you sending to our military community?

Do you think our military and their families see your messaging as confusing and inconsistent?

Are your actions interpreted as broken promises or just broken leadership—or both?

The anxiety, stress and uncertainty surrounding this rhetoric are paralyzing and create panic in the lives of our warriors and their families.

So here’s what I’m hearing you say—and I daresay I’m not alone in these thoughts:

  • The heroic service and sacrifice demonstrated by our troops and families over the last 10-plus years really just come down to money. People and benefits aren’t as important as boots, bullets and weapons
  • Reserve component and family members who have been fighting and serving alongside their active component peers are no longer relevant to national defense
  • Active duty families and programs are more important than Guard-Reserve families
  • Military and veterans benefits are unpredictable. At the end of the day, these benefits will be defined and redefined by what is in the best interest of the Pentagon.
  • When you say “we must exercise good stewardship over the resources that the American taxpayers entrust to the Department of Defense to protect the United States,” it is just another way to validate cuts, saying it’s much easier to tax our military, veterans and their families than it is to do the necessary analysis, hard work and oversight required to make the Defense Department more efficient.

I ask your full consideration of this letter and make one request.

Please be upfront and open, and dialog with us on the issues directly or indirectly impacting the health, well-being and security of our military community. We are interested. Like you, we care deeply about national defense and our country.

Are we or aren’t we a Force of One? Will you join us in this dialog?

Thank you in advance for your consideration and commitment.