Military News

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Military Must Slow Growth for Military Pay, Health Care

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 1, 2013 – The military has to look at the entire package of compensation, health care and retirement, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told a U.S. Forces Korea Town Hall meeting here today.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his wife, Deanie, spent an hour answering question from the joint service audience. Budget issues were a main concern for the service members.

Personnel costs have to be brought under control, the chairman said. He assured the service members that any changes to military retirement would be grandfathered. “So the question is what do we do with retirement for the next generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,” he said. “But compensation … and health care costs are growing at rates that are unsustainable to the all-volunteer force.”

This does not mean cuts, the chairman said, “we may not actually have to reduce pay and benefits, but we have to slow the growth.”

Last year, for example, DOD recommended a 1 percent pay raise for military personnel. Congress upped the total to 1.8 percent. Slowing the rate by just that much would have saved DOD $13 billion. Instead, the money to pay for the raise came out of readiness accounts, the chairman said.

In an interview with reporters traveling with him, Dempsey expanded on this. He noted he has been through three drawdowns in his career that began in 1974 – the post-Vietnam drawdown, the post-Cold War drawdown and the current one. This one is alarming to him because it is the steepest drawdown he has seen.

“The steepness of it puts us in a position to not exert enough control on balancing our requirements across all the accounts, whether they are manpower accounts, modernization, maintenance, training, family care,” he said. “It’s extraordinarily challenging to try to balance the budget because of the steepness of this drawdown.”

He is worried about the long-term effects of the drawdown. Under sequester, DOD must cut an additional $52 billion from the budget in fiscal 2014. “If I were able to shrink the force, close some unnecessary infrastructure, potentially cancel some weapons systems that we don’t think are as important as others, I think I can probably balance it and not affect readiness to the extent we are,” he said.

But Congress will not allow another base realignment and closure process, and Congress has continued some weapons systems the department has specifically said it does not need. “Because there are parts of the budget that are untouchable to me at this point,” he said. “Unless I can touch some of those things, it all comes out of readiness, which means the next group to deploy will be less ready than they should be.

“That’s not a position that our armed forces should be in as the greatest military on the planet serving the greatest nation on the planet.”

And sequestration could continue to be a year-by-year process, and that is dangerous “because we are asking the force to live with uncertainty and do it a year at a time,” he said. “Eventually I think they are going to lose faith if we do it a year at a time."

Syrian Conflict Will Take Years to Sort Out, Dempsey Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 1, 2013 – The conflict in Syria will take years to sort out, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today during an interview here.

The Syrian civil war has reverberated around the Middle East and involves a diverse cast of players and power blocs, said Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. The chairman is here to meet with South Korean defense leaders.

“It’s very complex, it’s changing and most importantly we have to see it as a long-term issue,” he said during the interview. “The issues that underlie this conflict will not be solved any time soon. I think we’re looking at a decade of challenges in the region with Syria being the epicenter.”

The war in the Middle Eastern nation has gotten to the point where it has spilled over the borders. “It is not useful to look at Syria as Syria – meaning it’s not useful to look through the soda straw at the boundaries of Syria and believe you understand the situation,” he said.

The conflict stretches from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad, he said, and it has historic roots. At the beginning, he said, the war had religious undertones, but he believes the more appropriate term should now be religious overtones. “A conflict that started as a rebellion has been hijacked by extremists on both sides – al-Qaida affiliates on one side and Lebanese Hezbollah on the other,” the chairman said. “The question seems to be what should we be doing to help our regional partners. And we are.”

The United States is taking a whole-of-government approach to the region, he said. From the military side, the United States is looking to see how to assist the Lebanese armed forces. U.S. service members are working with the Jordanian military and the United States is working with Turkey – a close NATO ally.

“Through the whole-of-government [approach,] we’re trying to apply economic factors assistance of other kinds to help identify a moderate opposition so as this thing develops we can have some influence in a positive way on the outcome,” he said.

Dempsey has been in touch with concerned chiefs of defense throughout the Middle East and Europe. “We’ve got incredible experience with building partners, and building military and police formations,” he said. “And so we’ve been in discussion about whether if we could find a way to collaborate on … the issue of whether we could develop a moderate opposition, in particular to stabilize some of the humanitarian issues in northern Jordan and southern Turkey.”

These discussions have not risen to the level of a plan, he said, more as a concept. “And I think it’s a valid concept to be thinking about in particular if [Syrian President Bashir] Assad – after the chemical issue is reconciled – if he fails to come to Geneva 2 with an intent to seek a political settlement,” Dempsey said. “Then I think like-minded nations might have the opportunity to contribute in different ways if we’re asked to.”