The battle over the 2014 Defense Budget wages on with the same threats and warnings about readiness and compensation. But this seemed to take on a bit of an ironic twist last week. During his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee last week Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, warned that if congress didn’t cut the current rate of growth in personnel costs the training and modernization budgets would be squeezed, “resulting in a ‘hollowing out’ of the force.” In his latest Military Update column, Tom Philpott points out the irony in that statement; it was the DoD (namely the Joint Chiefs)who claimed (back in the 1970's) that the U.S. military was almost a “hollow force,” in part because of low pay, housing allowances set far below off-base rents, and anemic travel reimbursements that put service families in financial holes with every move to a new duty station. Now the Joint Chiefs say that Congress should not be protecting military pay and compensation from the effects 2011 Budget Control Act while the overall defense budget is in danger of taking such a big hit. The argument is that force levels, recruiting and retention are all strong, while the money to train and support reasonable the force, operate ships and aircraft, maintain facilities and equipment, is being hit hard. On the other hand some would argue that reducing pay and compensation may quickly erode troop levels and the quality of the force, like it did in the 70’s and early 80’s. The fact is that there is no easy answer for the DoD, but, pitting compensation against training and modernization is not the answer. Maintaining both is the price of keeping a highly effective, motivated, well-trained voluntary military force. Maybe it’s time for our elected officials to face that fact, before it’s too late.
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