Senior Pentagon officials told Congress on Tuesday that troops are willing to sacrifice portions of their pay and benefits if it means keeping and improving the training and equipment needed to do their jobs.
Vice Adm. William F. Moran, chief of naval personnel and deputy chief of naval operations, told lawmakers that sailors he has met with over the past six months have spoken more about "the quality of the service" they're able to do than anything other topic.
The view was shared by other officials, including Sheryl E. Murray, assistant deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs for the Marine Corps.
"I would emphasize our Marines do enjoy a good quality of life. Our Marines love being in the Marine Corps family," she said. "Most of all, they want the right equipment. ... They want to be trained, and they want to be ready. That is the overriding desire."
Personnel officials from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and the Department of Defense met with the House Armed Services' Military Personnel subcommittee to talk about cuts to pay and benefits the Pentagon is proposing for its upcoming budget.
These include a smaller pay raise -- 1 percent raise, an average 5 percent reduction in housing allowances, and higher health care fees for some retirees.
The proposed budget for next year is $496 billion, reflecting a savings of $176 billion, according to the Pentagon, because of the personnel cuts.
Military leaders say personnel costs make up about a third of their budgets and remain the fasting growing portion. Unless the trend is slowed and reversed, manning costs will eventually make it impossible to meet other funding needs, the military brass has said.
"That's why we are asking for a 1 percent [troop pay increase] instead of a 2 or higher percentage, so we can slow that growth of a military member's pay and also be able to bolster their readiness and bolster the modernization," Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright said.
"The quality of life is good, but the quality of service, we believe, for our military members is lower, and so we would like to balance that," she said.
Army Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg said quality of life is important, but added "we can't afford to lower the training standards in defense of something else."
However, the personnel officials who offered testimony before the subcommittee could offer only personal anecdotes to back up their belief that troops would welcome pay and benefit cuts. No survey results were offered. Leaders also said it could not wait for the results of a commission due to issue its report on military pay and benefits next year.
Testimony from the military brass took some lawmakers by surprise after troop advocacy groups have rejected the cuts to pay and benefits proposed in the upcoming budget.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., reminded the Pentagon officials that the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission is expected to turn in its review and recommendation a year from now. He cautioned that they are asking to make significant changes in these areas without the benefit of the commission's findings.
"What happens when they come back in 2015 with a whole host of recommendations?" Heck asked.
Pentagon officials said the military can't wait a year for the commission's report followed by another year before any recommendations could be adopted.
"We've got to make a near-term savings in the next couple of years. Otherwise, we're going to dig ourselves into a hole and just not going to be able to get out of it," Bromberg said.
Veterans' organizations, which often speak for the services' rank and file, have opposed many of the proposed cuts.
The veterans groups, including the Association of the U.S. Navy and The American Legion, back a 1.8 percent raise that is tied to the formula worked out by the Employment Cost Index of the Labor Department.
"You want an adequate standard of living" for service members, American Legion National Commander Dan Dellinger said Tuesday night. "That's important for them and their families."
Dellinger said service members know the fiscal picture is tight. Army exercises have been scaled back. In the Navy, some ships have stayed at home instead of cruising.
"They've taken those concessions," he said. "I hate to say it, but the government shouldn't try to balance the budget on the backs of service members. If they took away the entire DoD budget, it still wouldn't balance the budget."
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.Jordan@monster.com.
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