Late in June, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, held another of his social media town hall events, in which he fielded questions from Facebook users who follow his page. During the event, questioners held the general's feet to the fire on a number of topics, some clearly demonstrating that they have grown tired of the elitist culture and corruption that has permeated the Joint Chiefs of Staff for years.
One question that Dempsey was asked garnered enough attention to make the evening news release from the Defense Media Activity, the DOD's news service.
During the Facebook event, I posed this question to General Dempsey;
With all the proposed changes to the military compensation package (retirement, commissary, etc), many members and their families feel betrayed, like the military isn't keeping up their end of the bargain after they served faithfully. What do you say to these members and their families?
As a military spouse, this question sums up the feelings of many military families that this journalist is privileged to know. After serving faithfully for years, and some nearing retirement, revamping the compensation package and cutting benefits feels like a gut punch that service members and their families can't afford and don't deserve.
General Dempsey gave a reply to this question that was, on the surface, caring and reassuring;
Our profession runs on trust, and keeping faith with the men and women who serve in uniform and their families is non-negotiable. This is why the Joint Chiefs and I have made it clear that any changes to retirement should grandfather all current service members. While none of us serve to pursue fame or fortune, I believe our pay and compensation must remain competitive to recruit and retain the very best all-volunteer force. That said, in today's difficult budget environment, we are working to balance manpower costs with training, modernization, and operation costs. We're doing it carefully and transparently, and we will continue to monitor fluctuations in cost of living to ensure our men and women in uniform remain fairly compensated.
This response was, however, pure political theater and laden with catchphrases that indicate where the general's true interests lie, something that is troubling during such a tenuous time in military history.
While the NDAA is being reconciled in committee, a Statement of Administrative Policy from the Office of the President to the committee makes it clear that if the president doesn't get the cuts to military compensation and other areas that he wants, as well as the increased spending for "modernization," he will veto the bill.A veto would allow the automatic cuts of sequestration to once again wreak havoc on both the defense budget and military families, who would face even more difficult financial choices.
As the nation's highest military officer, Dempsey should be concerned with the state of the force. However, as a political appointee, he has made it clear on a number of occasions that he's more interested in being an echo chamber for what the Obama administration wants, and what the administration wants is a smaller military force by any means necessary, including the loss of good soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who can't afford to stay in the military and care for their families.
While the general tries to make the case for cuts to the compensation packages of most service members, he's actively, albeit quietly, trying to hang on to the lavish perks that he and a select few officers at the top of the military food chain enjoy. Perks such as chauffeurs, personal chefs, and access to private aircraft are enjoyed in addition to a handsome six-figure salary, full benefits package, and pension.
As the new fiscal year draws ever closer, military families will continue to watch the drama play out at their expense with growing frustration. Constantly being the target of politicians as well as terrorists makes an already challenging life even harder. It is only a matter of time before the military is no longer able to accomplish the mission of defending the country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.