In the last decade of war, most of us sat out and tuned out. Meanwhile, our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen deployed. And deployed. And deployed.
Occasionally we stopped tweeting and texting long enough to watch the news, mourn the dead, wave the flag or tie a yellow ribbon. Perhaps we took that extra step of approaching a uniformed serviceman or woman to say, “Thank you for your service.”
But the times have changed. And the times are tough.
Congress now faces the unpleasant task of hacking off sizeable chunks from the budget, including portions of our nation’s vast defense costs (Trib article 9/25). In addition to expensive weapon’s systems and nation-building initiatives, the retirement promised to veterans actually appears to be on the table.
That is, in a word, outrageous. Twenty years and half pay- that was the deal.
There are numerous examples of pensions lost or shrunk in the private sector. The difference is that the capitalism system has always carried the potential for great reward as well as great loss. Any comparison to military benefits would be comparing apples to oranges (or grenades).
Public sector workers, myself included, have negotiated stable retirement benefits. This sector is also susceptible to the effect of shrinking budgets. In Washington State, for example, the pension plan for public safety workers was severely cut in 1979. Those firefighters and police officers employed after this date were aware of this when they joined. More importantly, those hired prior to this date saw the retirement plan they signed up to receive remain untouched. .
Such is not the case for military members working within the federal system. Congress controls the purse strings, including wages and benefits, and can make changes regardless of existing expectations. As usual, our politicians failed to look ahead and adjust the retirement system years ago.
If there were ever a time to unilaterally change the retirement system for all active duty personnel, now is not that time.
Setting aside the hardships–numerous deployments, the missed births, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations, forgetting the workdays that stretched into weeks without rest, the missed meals and sleep, the roar of rockets, exploding IEDs and the constant anxiety from continuous combat–and the ardent fact remains that we must honor our promise of a well-earned retirement for soldiers who chose to remain in uniform.
Most of our volunteer force swore their oath knowing full well that deployment was a when, not an if. Those choosing to make a career in the service did so for many reasons, including their unwillingness to leave a job unfinished and their desire to mentor those lacking battlefield experience. For these reasons, for all of the extra effort, hardship and loss of time at home with family, the veterans who choosing to remain were promised a retirement they deemed worthy of their sacrifice.
This imploding federal budget has thus become a crucible, wherein our nation’s best intentions are being melted down to the basic ingredients.
The question, then, will be whether our patriotic gestures, heartfelt gratitude and the sworn promises made to our battle-scarred servicemen and women are the true expression of our nation’s sentiments or merely empty rhetoric.
Our answer is simple. Let us honor our promise.