I joined the Marine Corps when I was 17. It was the year 2000 and I didn’t have a lot of options so I enrolled in the Delayed Entry Program – a pre-recruit training conditioning segment of the Inactive Ready Reserves. I left for Parris Island in the summer of 2001 to join America’s force in readiness, but before I could call myself a Marine I would have to sacrifice a great deal of comfort and no small amount of pride. I completed recruit training, completed Marine Combat Training, and earned my military occupational specialty in time to report to the II Marine Expeditionary Force in August of 2002. I was a teenager then and time raced by as I settled into my first unit in the Fleet Marine Forces. In one of the only decisions I don’t regret from my teens, I decided I couldn’t live without this marvelous girl that I went to high school with so I proposed to her and we were married late that December. One thing though – Task Force Tarawa was stood up as a Marine Expeditionary Brigade for a hasty deployment to Iraq. The resulting frost call required me to terminate my leave early and depart with my new bride in tow and drive from NJ to NC the night of our wedding…a truly expeditionary honeymoon. I left for Operation Iraqi Freedom (the first in a series) in January of the following year leaving my new wife alone about 500 miles away from anyone she knew. I knew this life was a consequence of service to our nation…that the importance of our duty would always come first when the hard decisions were made. As a twenty year old man I have to admit that I didn’t really understand it, but I definitely knew that it was a fact of my life. OIF I ended for me several months later and I returned home to learn how to be a good husband. I’m still working on that.
After OIF I I had some time off before my next deployment, but as anyone who has been in the military will tell you things can be busy even in peace. We were learning old lessons anew and our force structure was shifting which meant a lot of training even in garrison. Being in the military isn’t like a normal job. You don’t get to plan your time off under the assumption that you will actually be able to take it. You request leave and hope that it gets approved despite blistering operational requirements. Commanders work tirelessly to balance the morale of their units with their mission…and the mission always wins that battle. It is what “serving” in the military means. Your life is no longer really yours to do with as you want. I’m piecing something together here and you need to understand that…we aren’t free to do as we please in the military even when we’re home.
In the following years I returned to Iraq a couple more times between 2004 and 2006 serving in Ramadi and Fallujah. I would leave home every time knowing that I would never get that time back with my wife. I missed every Christmas, Thanksgiving, Anniversary, birthday…you get the idea. We don’t complain about these things seriously though…not even among ourselves. We just trade stories and try to one up each other to see who has had it worst. I have a friend that is a Gunnery Sergeant that has three kids and he has never seen one born and has made it to almost half of their birthdays. You can really only pay for the beer when someone tells you that.
What’s the moral of the story? Why am I telling you about a segment of my life? I want to provide you a tangible reference to life in the military. When I tell you that they’re thinking of changing our retirement plan perhaps now you can understand my frustration. The military has a great program for people that sacrifice 20+ years of their life. Its called the Cliff Vestment Retirement Plan and it gives us 50% of our base pay at retirement at 20 years with an additional 2.5% per additional year served over 20. Pretty sweet right? Thanks to our awful financial circumstances, the government is currently considering changing that plan in the middle of people’s careers. Check out the full article at the Navy Times… (read the comments here too)
Unlike other proposals to overhaul military retirement that would grandfather current troops, the board suggests that DoD could make an “immediate” transition to the new system, which would affect current troops quite differently depending on their years of service:
• Recruits. The newest troops out of boot camp after the proposed change would have no direct incentive to stay for 20 years and would not get a fixed-benefit pension. Instead, they would receive annual contributions to a Thrift Savings Plan account and could leave service with that money at any time — although under current rules, they can’t withdraw the money until age 59½ without paying a penalty, except in certain specified circumstances.
• Five years of service. Troops would immediately begin accruing new benefits in a TSP account. If they remained in service until the “old vesting date” — the 20-year mark — they also would get one-fourth of the “old plan benefit,” or about 12 percent of their pay at retirement, as an annuity. If they separated, for example, after 10 years, they would walk away with no fixed-pension benefit but would have a TSP account with five years of contributions.
• 10 years of service. Troops would immediately begin accruing new benefits in a TSP account. If they remained in service for 10 more years, they would receive half of the “old plan benefit,” about 25 percent of their pay at retirement, as an annuity. If they separated after 15 years, they would walk away with no fixed-pension benefit but would have a TSP account with five years of contributions.
• 15 years of service. Troops would immediately begin accruing new benefits in a TSP account. If they remained in service for five more years, they would receive three-fourths of the “old plan benefit,” about 37.5 percent of their pay at retirement, as an annuity.
• 20 years and beyond. Troops who stayed in past 20 years would continue to receive annual TSP contributions.
Hey, I get it. We need to make cuts. Our government is rife with excess and we need to take the knife to it if we have any hope of making it another decade. For all the hysteria over global warming and how the earth will be uninhabitable in a few decades if we don’t stop using electricity people sure don’t get crazy about the fact that we’re done for in less than a decade if we can’t get our debt under control. I digress. So we’re making cuts and the current military retirement system is being eyed as a place where we can save some money. I understand that…after all it is a pretty sweet deal. Hell, its even cost of living adjusted and starts at the date of retirement! So what happens to someone that’s already given 10 or 15 years of their life with the understanding that they would be rewarded with what is essentially a ticket to catch up on all of the living they’ve postponed in the interest of national security? Well they get a fraction of their previous retirement and, get this, entry into the Thrift Savings Plan for the last 5-10 years until they’re eligible for retirement. Forget the 10 previous years of interest payments they lost. Forget the fact that a 50% retirement for a GySgt under the current plan as compared to a 25% retirement with TSP for the last 10 or so under the proposed plan is a loss of about 85% of the total worth of their retirement as compared to the current plan. We’ve got entitlements to save for people that haven’t really done much of anything! Don’t forget that I wouldn’t even be writing this if our elected leaders could be bothered to do their jobs and make tough decisions without regard to their political future. One of the few definite constitutional expenditures we have is our military. The DOD needs serious reviews of its efficiency and nepotistic contract awarding practices to be sure, but its existence and purpose are among the few federal programs that we must have as a free people.
Don’t mistake this for a gripe session. We will take whatever medicine our republic dishes out. We will dutifully execute the orders of those appointed over us. What I will not do is let you forget what these men and women are sacrificing for you. What you would have lost if not for their suffering…their loss. You enjoy the freedom to sit and watch debt ceiling debates or Desperate Housewives or whatever you watch only because there are men and women that are willing to give their lives to protect you. Don’t you dare change the rules on them midstream because you failed to find the cuts that make sense. Don’t you buckle to a miserable constituency of layabouts and wastrels with their hands held out – sacrificing the military because you know that they’ll take it with their mouth shut and their head up.
We fight for you…who will fight for us?
The opinions in this article are my own and should not be misconstrued as an official DOD statement.