C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service
WASHINGTON — The senior enlisted advisors for the four military services met on Capitol Hill, here, Feb. 17, to discuss with lawmakers the top issues on service members’ minds.
It turns out that for many, it’s the same as what’s on lawmakers’ 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 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.
Chandler joined Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy at a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on military construction, Veterans Affairs and related agencies.
Budget concerns still weigh on service members’ minds 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 Defense Department through “sequestration,” and service members are concerned what that will mean for them.
“It’s a very eye-opening experience,” Chandler said. “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 or 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.”
Impact on Retention
Service members who want to stay in uniform are 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.
“The privilege to serve will become more difficult,” Chandler said.
Standards will increase, he said, and to draw down the force, the Army will use multiple tools — including fewer new recruits, tougher retentions 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 the transition smoother for service members.
“That is a major focus for me personally … to really refine our transition assistance program with the help of (the VA and Labor departments), 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.