If you want a professional fighting force to protect you and to help the United States project its power around the world as the super power it is and must continue to be (for self-preservation) you have to pay for it. Of course you can’t just open up the checkbook and say pay and benefits are unlimited, but an effective all-volunteer military is a costly proposition and yet one we have tied ourselves to.
And so I read with surprise and some skepticism and dismay about plans to curb the future growth of military pay and benefits, and a projection that military families will suffer in the process.
It’s already a disgrace the way we treat soldiers who fight overseas, in some instances refusing to pay for all of their medical care because they may have been part of the National Guard or some such other bureaucratic reason.
And it is already an outrage that we pay them so little and private contractors so much.
And it is unconscionable that now that the defense department is faced with the demands of the sequester to trim its budget that the first thing it does is go after military pay. Certainly an analysis of pay and the growth of future pay outlays are in order, but how about looking for efficiencies in other ways, such as unneeded weapons programs, too many contractors, and too cozy relationships between government procurement officials and the private part of the military-industrial complex.
A decision was made toward the end of the Vietnam War to go to the all-volunteer professional force. No more would young people be forced to serve for dubious causes.
And an argument can be made that we are much better off with the all-professional force. It was dark days indeed during the Carter administration. We were coming off a not-so-long ago major defeat and a wound to the pride of the nation that was Vietnam (and I will add it was a loss due to politicians primarily, not those who fought). And then Iran took our embassy people hostage and we were militarily impotent to do anything. There was a failed rescue mission. Now one can say that in such an instance there is not much you can do militarily without getting all the hostages killed. Maybe, though, we should have consulted the Israelis. They have been successful in similar circumstances.
While I personally am dubious about our efforts over this past decade in the Middle East I am impressed with what I have seen in documentaries about the caliber of our fighting force. It is not perfect and all of its members are not perfect, but then the bad apples get all the publicity.
The only way we can get by with less might be to have a smaller professional cadre and then depend upon mandatory service of all young people between certain age groups for a limited time, such as three or four-year hitches. But that type of system probably works better in smaller and more homogeneous societies.
Not everyone in the military serves in direct combat. But all have that as their basic duty. No matter what your classification, as part of the military you are a fighting person first, even if your job might be more of a support mission. But we have a large fighting force. And how are we going to continue to recruit and maintain such a force if we do not keep the pay and benefits up? In fact, we probably should be figuring out how we can raise them.
Gone are the days when you just needed brawn and physical fighting ability. Today we need people who are willing and able to put their lives at risk but who are intelligent enough to understand and work with modern technology and who are intelligent enough to understand the more complicated missions we have today in military actions that are so much more complex than the ones of the past. We want people who will do the right thing, not people who will simply get overseas somewhere and go berserk without regard to who is friend or foe, and people who will project the correct image.
It’s a tall order.
We have to pay the piper.
The military is not only a force for war, it is a humanitarian force (witness the Philippine situation) that could be used much more effectively both abroad and at home (Katrina).
One general said in justifying holding the line on pay and benefits that we cannot pay people enough for what we ask them to do. That is hard to argue with, but it sounds like a cop-out to me.