The Future of Americas All-Volunteer Force

For the sake of our military and the Republic it defends,  we must cultivate a societal and organizational shift that sees military service not as the noble obligation of the few, but as an opportunity for the many. The many benefits offered as part of the greater American social contract should be contingent upon, at the very least, the willingness to give to their nation before receiving from it.  Meeting this objective will require fundamental legislative and bureaucratic shifts to allow the All-Volunteer Force to maintain its dominant international status at a less strenuous cost, in both its short-term cost and its long-term fiscal obligations, on our nation.

The All-Volunteer Force has succeeded magnificently. Forty years later, however, the fuel for that success, namely fiscal largess, is in unquestioned risk.  As Milton Friedman correctly observed, the All-Volunteer Force is the proper military for the defense of a Republic founded upon freedom.  To ensure its continued success, however, will require significant adjustments to benefits and retirements to maintain the bedrock of security the world relies upon today, and maintain its existence in the near future of limited budgets.  The current status of half our serving enlisted as careerists is unnecessary, expensive and unwise.

The current military retirement system remains a vestige of the draft-era militaryIn our current national financial state, revisiting some of these bypassed considerations is critical to ensure the health and viability of the military.

Almost 75% of American 17-24 year-olds are ineligible for military service for legal, physical, or educational reasons.  The military already competes for the best of America’s youth.  This increasingly limited recruiting pool is less damaging to the military than it is to society as a whole.  Margaret Meadaccurately saw the societal benefits of universal service. “Universal national service, she noted, in addition to solving the problem of fairness for those who are asked to serve in the military, in contrast to those who are not, is above all a new institution for creating responsible citizens alert to the problems and responsibilities of nationhood in a rapidly changing world.”

The current military retirement system remains a vestige of the draft-era military.  At the time of its inception, the long term costs of the All-Volunteer Force model were largely minimized in the desire to quickly create a volunteer force capable of facing the immediate Soviet threat. In our current national financial state, revisiting some of these bypassed considerations is critical to ensure the health and viability of the military. Of the 16 major studies of the U.S. Military Retirement system from 1948 to 2005, only one (the 1st Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation of 1967-1969) recommended contributory retirement.  There is a fundamental assumption in these reviews that we need to maximize the time in service of our professionals.  This assumption is flawed.  The military is strengthened by youth and diversity, which our current “20 or nothing” retirement plan discourages.  Constrained intellectually by the 20-year retirement, to encourage service beyond the 20-year mark is obviously beneficialwhy pay two service members (one serving, one retired) for the same position?


Recruitment Costs

Some argue a more mature military is a strength.  As a Reservist,  I  see areas of the military art where the wizened warrior is of benefit.  By and large, however, the military is a young man’s (and woman’s) profession.  The Marines have developed a younger force by virtue of an admirable combination of recruiting and adherence to historical cultural norms.  The average age of a Marine is 25 (while the other services all average around 29-30 years old).  The Marines have deliberately developed a commanding position where being a Marine, former or otherwise, is a benefit in and of itself.  Young Marines are given leadership authority at a lower rank and the service enjoys personnel costs significantly lower than their fellow services.  To the great benefit of the National Guard, many of these former Marines fill our ranks continuing their service to our nation in an equally admirable, yet less expensive manner.  The larger services cannot hope to emulate a recruiting strategy formulated on 70 years of immaculate strategic communication. But they can look at a recruiting strategy of “get in, get out, and move on” and attempt to emulate that successful model.

The uncomfortable fact is that our current military compensation is essentially correct by the law of supply and demand.  Should we wish to decrease compensation, as we must, the demand for military service must be somehow encouraged via other, more creative, means.  We must acknowledge that a younger force is cheaper, but no less effective.  We must make military service, for its own sake and not for direct compensation, valuable to America’s youth.  The simplest and most viable way to do this is to directly link government employment and benefits to military service.  A federal job, in the current economic environment, is a highly valuable resource.  While veterans’ preferences exist for many positions, they are most often not the deciding factor.  For those who are physically qualified, they should be.  This would encourage those who wish to serve in government to invest a few years of their lives to the military before continuing on in other, equally valuable, ways.  Likewise we have magnificent educational benefits for military service while still offering billions in grants to students who would otherwise be eligible for service in uniform.

The requirement of a modern, professional military likewise demands a modern, professional and, above all, mobile workforce. The mechanism for this desired mobility is the contributory retirement system often called collectively a 401K.  The federal government already has a system in place mirroring thisthe Thrift Savings Program.  The military has adopted the program, albeit absent the matching contributions.  The military should immediately begin phasing out the non-contributory 20 year retirement plan and implement a matching Thrift Savings Program.

As with the GI Bill, which is also contributory, new recruits would be given the onetime, non-reversible option to choose matching contributory retirement or standard 20 year casino pa natet retirement.  How the young men and women choose can be the basis for maintaining a system of options, or simply removing the 20 year retirement option altogether.  Buyouts for current service members should be considered within the context of limited near term budgets.  With a portable retirement plan, we would no longer have the mid-grade sergeants and officers filling unneeded billets in unneeded commands.  The military now is understandably loath to remove a mediocre career service-member at the 15 year mark, or even the 10 year mark.  With a retirement plan based on all or nothing, to abandon someone who has invested most of their adult life to the service is morally and organizationally wrong.  The freedom to leave the service when either the service or the service member believe it to be in their own best interests is in no way a detriment to the mission.

Likewise, we offer a buffet of benefits to attract recruits who may only be interested in a single aspect.  The many benefits of military service include health care for family members, educational benefits both while in service (tuition assistance) and after service (GI Bill and its many manifestations.) Other benefits include: choice of job skills, choice of duty assignment location, enlistment bonuses, and student loan repayment, among others.  Most often, these benefits are offered en masse, notwithstanding that most recruits are only focused on one or two items as incentives to enlist.  Yet, as their career progresses, they often end up utilizing all of them.

Why offer both tuition assistance and the GI Bill?  If a recruit is interested in dependent health care, then the other factors should be at the whim of the service.  Choice of military skill may preclude other benefits.  If the military offers to train a high paying civilian equivalent skill, then why continue to pay for other job training through heavily subsidized college courses?  The development of an à la carte menu of benefits will have huge personnel cost savings with little loss of recruiting.  As recruits choose or don’t choose, up front bonuses will prove to be a much cheaper alternative to entice a would-be service member than long-term, open-ended, expensive and expansive benefits.

Removing the 20-year retirement, wholly through voluntary measures, would give the military the needed flexibility in times of war and peace and in times of plenty and austerity.  Likewise, limiting and tailoring benefits to focus on the immediate recruitment would provide budgetary stability and control over the length of a service member’s career.  The military’s budget problems are the Nation’s problem.  The Nation must likewise share the burden in correcting it for the sake of the welfare of both our men and women in uniform and the taxpayers whom we voluntarily defend.


Lieutenant Colonel Paul Darling is an Alaskan Army National Guardsman assigned to the National Guard Bureau Joint Staff as a strategist. The views presented here are his own and do not represent the views of the Alaska Army National Guard or the U.S. military.


[Photo: Flickr Commons, National Guard]



  1. Lazarus 30 July, 2014 at 19:10 Reply

    Interesting thoughts, but given the military’s number are decreasing, shouldn’t the present benefits remain as a means of retaining well qualified members? The Army and the Marine Corps combat formations may be optimized for the young, but the Navy and Air Force, who will carry more of the burden of defense since the end of the Southwest Asia wars, value experience over youth. The U.S. govt’s biggest expense is payments to individuals. The active duty military makes up a very small part of that overall expenditure. ADM Mike Mullen stated back in 2011 (I believe) that only 7-11% of all personnel who enlist/get a commission complete the 20 years necessary to retire. Are their pensions such a high price to pay, considering such a small number of men and women (1% of the overall population or less) provide security for the other 99%? Contributory efforts by service members toward their own retirements (like civilians) could be an option offered to those with the time/skills to manage them, but the 20 year pension remains a useful inducement to long-term service and ought to be retained so long as the U.S. military remains a tiny volunteer force.

    • James B. 2 March, 2015 at 17:33 Reply

      I agree that pensions should still vest at 20 years, but having them pay out immediately hurts post-20 retention. A combination TSP and pension, with the pension not paying out until 60, would motivate top performers to stay in to 20, and give them good reason to stay in further.

  2. Luddite4Change 30 July, 2014 at 23:40 Reply

    Its right to question if the 20 year cliff vesting retirement system is capable of meeting the long term objectives of providing professional security for the nation.

    While I will somewhat agree that the service is “a young man’s game”, the true reason for the increased professionalism of the All Volunteer Force over the draftee force was retention of NCO’s and officers with 10-20 years of service. The retention of this group of personnel is sorely put at risk by instituting a 401K style contributory portable retirement system which essentially reduces the cost of exit for these individuals at and beyond the 10 year point to zero.

    While much hay is made of the fact the only 17% of all service member who join reach the 20 year retirement, it is forgotten that 50% of attrition happens at the end of the 1st term of service, 80% by year 8 (generally the end the the second term) and 90% by year 10. I would also argue that the individuals who are exiting at these points are reaping significant benefits in terms of education (both in service and the GI Bill), and the say that they exit with nothing is intellectually dishonest.

    As for the following statement from the article: “The military now is understandably loath to remove a mediocre career service-member at the 15 year mark, or even the 10 year mark.”

    I believe the 1000 Captains (including 80+ who were deployed) who were just identified for release for active duty and the 500 Majors who will soon be notified will that there services are no longer required will disagree.

  3. Gary Haynes 31 July, 2014 at 12:11 Reply

    The author of this article is a reservist, he has no real understanding of of the active duty force like most reservists. I retired as a US Army First Sergeant with 22 years of active duty service. I spent my last twelve years in the US Army Recruiting Command as a field recruiter, Station Commander, First Sergeant, acting enlisted Company Commander, and Battalion Master Trainer. The author talks about the Marines and how they are younger than the other services, while true, he neglects to say that they have a cadre force of NCO’s just like the other services. The NCO corps of all the services is the backbone of our military. We have an outstanding NCO Corps because we have the 20 year retirement benefit as it is currently constructed. The Obama administration wants to revamp the current retirement program and all but eliminate it. If you want to create a 401K for all those who choose to leave the military before their 20 years is up, that’s fine, just don’t screw with the professional NCO Corps. The retirement benefit recognizes the sacrifices and strains of a life dedicated to active duty military service. Veterans that leave the service before retiring have a long list of benefits are are tailored to reward them for their service, so they don’t walk away without any benefits. The administration also wants to do away with just about any other benefits that military retiree has as well. The author hints at a return to the draft, but remember except in dire emergencies only the Army would accept draftees, the other services would not. This has been the case since WW2. What would happen in a draft is that instead of a roughly 40% first term retention rate we would retain less than 3% of our first term soldiers as we did in the draft era. The constant turn over would mean that our units would be manned by draftees with no intention of staying in the Army resulting in an inferior fighting force. All this would lead to shake and bake NCO’s and very few seasoned E-4’s to fill NCO slots. The active duty component today is manned by soldiers recruited and trained to a very high standard by well trained NCO’s. I attribute the high standards and professionalism seen in our Army today to the fact that we have a volunteer force led by a well trained career oriented professional NCO Corp. I have two sons, both serving as senior NCO’s today and I can tell you that they saw how rewarding a career in the Army was for their father that they chose to follow in their father’s footsteps and make the Army their career as well. NCO’s that make the choice to give the best 20 or 30 years of their life should have be rewarded with a superb retirement pension and benefit program. Don’t break what isn’t broke, because you’ll have to come back and fix your mistakes just like they had to when they screwed with the retirement benefit back in the 80’s and retention of mid grade NCO’s plummeted in the 90’s.

    • SFC (Ret) DJ Buschman 31 July, 2014 at 13:43 Reply

      Everything you stated 1SG is completely true. I too did 22 years as a “grunt”, and filled many NCO positions throughout my blessed career. I still serve as an Army Instructor in JROTC and am grateful for the opportunity to now serve those less fortunate than me. Since I retired well over 5 years ago I have learned a lot about being a retired soldier in the civilian sector and how my experience has positively impact those around me and some who may see my direct style of leadership seem a little overwhelming. However, all in all, I believe that I am appreciated in my current position.
      Well written post and I appreciate your statistical credits that you posted. If it aint broken then DON’T fix it. Right now the NCO corps is what is holding our current, fragile force together as this current administration imposes their social justice agenda on the Army. Along with that, as we draw down on our current combat mission, and our defense budget gets smaller and smaller it will be up to the NCO corps to keep the young enlisted force focused on its never changing mission; to be ready to fight America’s wars.
      Take care and God bless,
      Thunder 7!

    • Hiram Patterson 31 July, 2014 at 14:27 Reply

      I agree with your overall comments, but I find your opening statement that paints reservists as not understanding the active duty force offensive. I’m a retired Navy O-6 with 32 years of service, including 12 years of active duty and four deployments since 2003. Tens of thousand of reserve personnel served in IA assignments to support the Army and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as stateside. The Army in particular could not carry out many missions without reserve and active augmentation. Marine Civil Affairs units are primarily reserve personnel and deployed continuously throughout Anbar Province. Who do you think contributed significantly to medical support in Afghanistan and at Landstuhl, Germany from day one – reservists! Who has manned Navy hospital ships during Desert Storm and for countless humanitarian missions to Haiti and the Pacific – reservists! I could go on with other examples. Reservists know full well about the active duty force as many of us were prior service and from our wartime experience. In addition to overseas operations, reservists have backfilled and supported numerous CONUS commands while active forces deployed OCONUS. Reservist routinely are called back or volunteer to serve in active duty commands for periods from 6 months to 2-3 years. We know full well about active force issues.

    • Vince Bonacci 31 July, 2014 at 15:39 Reply

      I couldn’t help but notice that he focused completely the enlisted side of the house with no mention of the Officer corp. It’s funny to me that this type of article always focuses on enlisted service members “getting over” but makes no mention of the significantly higher cost of retiring Field Grade Officers and above. Many of whom receive multiple degrees for their professional military education while the enlisted are often forced to get only what little credit ACE has identified, and then much of that is not accepted anyway. I also disagree with any plan where an 18-22 y/o is expected to make intelligent non-reversible decisions about how their retirement will be paid 15-20 years down the road.

  4. Wayne Perry 31 July, 2014 at 12:24 Reply

    Although his idea is not totally bat crap crazy, not all of it is that great either.

    Our troops need and want cash in their pocket. Pets stop with subsidies that are mediocre (like the commissary) and #ShowOurTroopsTheMoney.

  5. Othello 31 July, 2014 at 12:49 Reply

    I would have preferred this to have come from someone on active duty. I think the author sees enlisted personnel as widgets, as if once they are qualified for the military, they are qualified for any job in the military. But I would expect a strategist to view the world like that, people are just pawns in his game of “Risk”.

    While a la carte benefits is an idea, I think it is hardly a solution. No matter what the solution is, the military will be taking something from someone. One can postulate and say that the new recruit will just be happy to be there. Truth be told, they will know that someone has better benefits than them and possibly be envious of them. If you take away those benefits from the active member, morale will go down and retention will go down as well. But if you view people as widgets, that idea is inconsequential. They will just make more, right?

    The author’s view of the MOS/NEC world as flat provides additional issues. Take for example the Navy’s nuclear program, which takes the 25% of the population eligible for military service, and then puts additional bounds upon them. It meets your criterion as highly valuable skill in the civilian world as well, so folks should just be banging down the door to get into the nuclear program. The truth is the polar opposite. Even in a poor job market, the Navy has raised bonuses, both retention and recruitment, in order to keep her nuclear ships and submarines manned at adequate levels. One could argue there is a large shortage in submarine community. But they want to be there, right? Everyone wants to be trapped in a steel tube for months on end, dealing with radioactive water, tested and drilled until you are at your wits end? That sounds fabulous! And you are going to take benefits away from the sailor? Or the sailor’s family (who is likely one of the only reasons he decided to enter that god forsaken tube in the first place)? I can see the lines now, LTC Darling!

    I’m not saying that this isn’t useful input for the discussion. But I don’t enjoy hearing a part-timer call for something that will barely affect him. Maybe your guard unit is full of widgets. My ship wasn’t.

  6. William Guglielmi 31 July, 2014 at 12:55 Reply

    I agree in most part with 1SG (Ret) Haynes. The author has missed the major problem with the all volunteer force. As long as the Nation is going to rely upon the 1% to defend the 99% the Nation should be prepared to pay the price incurred for such an arrangement. Do not mess with the benefits, because you might get what you pay for.

  7. J Donahue 31 July, 2014 at 12:58 Reply

    Spoken like someone who isn’t in touch with reality. “Buffet of benefits” like choice of duty assignment locations, REALLY! In 21 years I never got my first choice. As I recall assignments were based on the needs of the Army as it should be. I joined to serve and my buffet table was often MRE’s. Now don’t take away what I earned.

  8. Paul Connors 31 July, 2014 at 13:53 Reply

    What LTC Darling appears to deliberately omit is the fact that the original concept behind the 401K contributory retirement plans was the fact that they were NEVER INTENDED to be a complete and full replacement for the traditional defined benefit plan(s) which many employees in the public and private sectors had at the time of the 401K introductions. The 401K plans were supposed to be a supplement to and not a replacement for the traditional pension.

    LTC Darling, a member of the AKARNG is currently assigned to the National Guard Bureau which means he is himself on a Title 10 AGR Tour earning full time military pay and allowances and I’d be willing to bet that he has significant active duty time under his belt and is hoping to cobble together at least 20 years of the same so as to insure he gets his ACTIVE DUTY pension rather than the far smaller one he’ll receive at age 60 as a retired traditional guard/reserve.

    While LTC Darling makes some very cogent cultural comments, the fact remains that 401K type retirement plans have now replaced traditional retirement plans for most civilian sector workers and for the most part will never provide the level of replacement income that most people will need when they stop working in their later years. I am a retired traditional national guardsman and my service over 26+ years cost me several highly compensated civilian jobs because I refused to forsake my PT military career. My small pension is nothing worth mentioning and the only benefits I am truly able to enjoy and utilize effectively are the commissaries and my Tricare Standard medical coverage (which will only carry me to age 65 when I must enroll in Medicare like everyone else in order to maintain TRICARE for LIFE).

    LTC Darling, like so many senior officers and civilian DoD strategists argues for the diminishing returns of fewer and smaller benefits for military service at a time when his FUTURE retirement benefits will NOT be in jeopardy. This makes for a somewhat intellectually dishonest argument because it will mean military personnel after a certain date will be placed in a different tier than those serving today. While reform is needed, the radical reforms advocated by LTC Darling and others need to be seriously considered prior to implementation and a way needs to be found to introduce them incrementally so that cliff-like fall-offs in benefits do not become so readily apparent that the pool from which the military recruits is further diminished by well informed consumers who know up front that they are getting a raw deal.

    After more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the recent shameful treatment of medically disabled veterans by the VA, the White House and Congress, renewed attempts to further reduce military compensation and post-service benefits will require considerable oversight.

    I would suggest, at the very least, that should Congress decide to make changes that former military service members including those from the junior enlisted ranks, the mid to senior NCO/Petty Officer grades, junior/company grade, field grade and senior officers all serve together on a “civilian” commission to make recommendations that are fair and reasonable. The members of this commission need not all be military retirees and in fact, there should be more than a fair representative population of people who did NOT stay for retirement and who hung up their uniforms early but who bring significant civilian work experience to the table so as to be able to provide that perspective to the benefits analysis role.

    Likewise, non-veteran members of the federal bureaucracy, to include DoD and staffers in the House and Senate should NOT have a say in military compensation, benefits and retirement reforms legislation.

    Yes, personnel costs are high, but then, the costs of the leviathan known as the federal government are far worse. We have a President who consistently and flagrantly violates the Constitution by changing laws and statutes on a whim and whose lack of financial discipline, along with the profligacy of the House and Senate has helped to bring us to the financial precipice that we now must deal with.

    Instead of taking out our wrath financially on the backs of those who have served honorably and nobly, I believe we would ALL be better served by taking out our wraths as citizens on the political hacks in DC who have created the disastrous financial state that forces officers like LTC Darling to write articles such as this one.

    In the end, articles like this one do nothing but raise the ire of those who served and sacrificed. Let us hope that one day we do not suffer the wrath of the Legions or some new Praetorian Guard that with a clash of swords on shields unmakes the imperial interregnum we now suffer under.

    • Luddite4Change 31 July, 2014 at 18:48 Reply

      “LTC Darling, a member of the AKARNG is currently assigned to the National Guard Bureau which means he is himself on a Title 10 AGR Tour earning full time military pay and allowances and I’d be willing to bet that he has significant active duty time under his belt and is hoping to cobble together at least 20 years of the same so as to insure he gets his ACTIVE DUTY pension rather than the far smaller one he’ll receive at age 60 as a retired traditional guard/reserve member.”

      His full bio is readily available on a variety of social networking sites, and that appears to be the case.

      I’m the first to admit that there are issues with the current system being out of balance in terms of what gets paid out over time, versus the time put into a career, but I think that there is significant risk in messing with a system that works (even though its costs are not moving in a positive direction).

      One of the somewhat philosophical questions that we need to answer is, is the military are profession or a job? If it is a profession, what is the appropriate way to manage careers and compensate people for their commitment, and how long should that commitment be?

      For instance; would the medical profession jettison 33% of doctors at the 17 years of experience just because they are not the most competitive to become hospital or department medical directors? That’s ostensibly what we do with the O-5 selection board on a yearly basis.

  9. Jason Wright 31 July, 2014 at 13:57 Reply

    The author makes it sound as if maintaining our current retirement and educational benefits is an impossibility. This article might make more sense if the author took the time to explain why it is impossible. If you’re going to propose a radical change like eliminating retirement, it has to be in reaction to something even more horrible or more painful than what you are proposing, and your audience – mostly people who have served – does not understand why that is impossible.

    I am also concerned about the growing civil-military divide between people who have served, and people who have not. We can already see how it has hamstrung our ability to avoid sequestration. There’s simply not enough public support or Congressional will to prevent it from happening.

    I would much rather read an in-depth and understandable explanation of the budget crisis and how it is affecting DOD, and why our disconnected techie culture combined with a growing civil-military divide is making it “impossible” to maintain something as prosaic as a social contract with our Citizen Soldiers.

    • Luddite4Change 31 July, 2014 at 18:05 Reply

      If LTC Darling, or anyone else, explained the true nature of the financial problem it would be beneficial, but it could also lead you into considering different alternatives.

      The reason why retirement cost are rising as a percent of personnel cost outlays is because we all happen to be living longer healthier lives. When the 20/30 career system was instituted in the late 40s the average life expectancy was 66.5 years and 80% of officers continued to serve beyond 20 years (as they had a realistic opportunity to make O-6, eventually, if they were “fully qualified”). Today, the average life expectancy is 82 years, and 50% of all officers retire by 23 years of service. This leaves us with a situation were the taxpayer is paying almost 40 years of retirement pay/benefits, when the original financial model envisioned well less then 20 years.

      • Jason Wright 6 August, 2014 at 12:05 Reply

        We could always make Active Duty retirees wait until age 60 to begin receiving their retirement checks. I don’t know if anyone has mentioned that alternative.

        • Redleg83 11 August, 2014 at 12:54 Reply

          I retired 8 years ago after service as both an enlisted soldier and commissioned officer. While I am presently working, I have been denied civilian health coverage due to the damaging of my body over a military career spanning 28 years. Immediate compensation after retirement is not only practical in terms of providing life long health care that is otherwise unavailable to a service member, delaying receipt of benefits would do nothing but serve as a dis-incentive to a life of service to our nation. Remember – freedom isn’t free.

  10. JP 31 July, 2014 at 14:06 Reply

    Sir I have to respectfully disagree with you. There are a myriad of ways to reduce military and for that matter govenment expendatures which do not require gutting military retirement or benefits. You say it’s a young man’s game and you are right in part. Young men are the fighting force in large part, but who trains and leads these young men and women? Who passes on knowledge and makes tough leadership decisions based upon experience, other young men? I entered the military with plans to remain for 20 or more as a carreer, while retirement benefits at that early age were largely lost on me, the longer I served, the more they ment to me and the more they served as a positive retention measure for me personally. This pushed me through tough times in my carreer, where I needed motivation to stay. The military can’t be completely staffed with 25 year olds, and failure to retain seasoned capable leaders is a mistake. As we draw down in Afghanistan and reduce our numbers it is imperative that we retain well trained, battle tested NCOs and Officers to bridge the gap in knowledge and experience until the next conflict.

    If we examine our use of supplies and equipment at the small unit level and higher we will find a multitude of places where we can cut costs not associated with pay and benefits. How about we reward units that dont spend their entire yearly budget as opposed to the current practice of the end of FY spending spree that happens every year where units spend un-used funds so that they don’t loose budgets for the following year. Lets stop the practice of printing off massive slide packets for commanders and subordinates when we project the slides on a screen or TV, embrace the technology we have and quit wasting millions of dollars in paper, ink and supplies because a commander wants to hold something. Lets stop changing our uniforms every few years, having to re-manufacture every peice of equipment in a new pattern. Stop letting every service design and implement their own camo and go back to a fixed set of camos for all services, which would reduce spending and streamline logistics. The REAL spending problem is prepetuated by people in charge feeding the military industrial complex as opposed to making changes based upon need and requirement. When we were given the ACU no one I knew thought it was a good camoflage, no one said “wow this is awesome, how revolutionary!”

    I’d like once, for someone to examine cuts and common sense measure like those I listed above, before going straight to preaching that we offer to many benefits and we have to cut this or that. Soldiers make a commitment to this nation, they protect it, and quite often sacrifice everything; their lives, families, friends, etc. I think the benefits we receive are a fair compensation for a lifetime of service and sacrifice.

  11. Jack Howell 31 July, 2014 at 14:21 Reply

    Interesting thoughts but a little naive and doesn’t show a full understanding of certain programs. For example, tuition assistance is meant to be available for those on active duty who either want to are some college classes who want to get their feet wet before separating (under honorable conditions) or for those who are trying to get their associate’s or bachelor’s before separating/retiring (under honorable conditions). The GI BILL and Post 9/11 GI BILL are available for those who have separated or retired (under honorable conditions). Also, removing 20-year retirements removes a big incentive for those who want to go the distance. Why would anyone want to make the military a career if the biggest incentive to do so is removed. Another example can be found in his suggestion that potential recruits should be able to choose the benefits they want. What the author doesn’t understand is that many people want all of the benefits that the military has to offer. No one can leave the military when he/she chooses. Those individuals made a commitment to serve the length of their enlistment contract. Finally, he is a Reservist who shows that he has no tru understanding of being on active duty full time. COL Darling should transfer to active duty so that he can see what’s really happening on a daily basis. Otherwise, he has no business talking about it.

  12. Paul 31 July, 2014 at 14:22 Reply

    to all
    I do understand what Paul ius saying and I have to disagree with his first statement “75% of americans do not qualify fo rmilitary service” This Number is not because americans do nto meet requireemnts. The DOD has slowly closed the loop and eligibility of americans to ensure those recruited are over qualified to ensure the military when doing recuruiting are only taking those they want do to downsizing. Maybe if we reevaluated our poeple americans we would find more willing to serve. Secondly Waht Paul is talking about as for compensation and its problems come from the concept of an all volunterr force. It is very expensive to recruit americans if they have no other incentive to join the military i ffor monetary reasons. I truly beleive if we required universal Federal Service for all americans we would be better off and the costs to support our military would not be as High. Yet if you look at the miltary of the 1960’s the average soldier was younger and paid a very small monthly pay (65.00) however, the Commisaries and the Stores wer esubsidized and allowed the money go a lot farther for these guys. We also did not rquire Hotel room type accomidations barracks were the norm not the exception.
    So no I do not agree with Pauls conclusions

  13. Marc Miller 31 July, 2014 at 15:20 Reply

    I retired as an LTC with 20 years active service. I am grateful for my pension and assure everyone that I would have left much earlier had there not been this benefit. I live in Illinois now, and I read articles all the time about state and local officials who earn much larger pensions than the one I receive. Yet, it has become fashionable in the press to make military members look way over-compensated. This is not the case. There is one item in the article I agree about. We should make Federal employment contingent on some duration of active duty service.

  14. Alan Johnson 31 July, 2014 at 15:22 Reply

    I’m a retired USAF officer. I’m glad I served for my 21 years and I’m glad to have the pension today. I also understand the affordability issue – I don’t agree that every retired military member should pay the same fees, such as for Tricare Prime. Such fees should be linked to achieved rank.
    To accuse the current President of somehow fomenting this crisis or of not supporting the military is just flat wrong. First: military personnel cost growth has spanned several administrations. Second, the 2011 Budget Control Act (the source of current DoD fiscal pressure) came from Congress. The President merely signed it.

  15. david boggs 31 July, 2014 at 16:15 Reply

    I sat in a volunteer army briefing as a Captain, there were many questions asked but only two that i remenber-1)you are going to raise the pay and benfits? 2) a volunteer force will be small in peacetime-how will you expand it to meet the threat? Pay and benfits would be raised and the public would respond to a threat requiring a larger force. Answer one turned out to be true and answer two was false-the miltary had to drop stringent requirements for enlistment, issue “moral waivers, empty the jails and hold 14000 troops past their release date. I am not sure of the damage to the NCO corps but they are and have been the backbone. Drop the pay and benifits and you are heading for a return to the draft. The current collusion between the generals and politicians to protect cash flow to defense contractors over maintaining a volunteer force is a disgrace.

  16. Experienced 31 July, 2014 at 16:15 Reply

    When you speak to almost any nation in the world and ask what they feel is the most significant part of the U.S. military they would like to adapt there is typically one resounding answer; the experienced NCO Corp that the author feels we do not need. Our experienced NCO Corp is the backbone of the military. You must have experienced personnel to train the younger recruits that join. Every facet of the military machine is not built on the concept of “charge that hill.” The military today is a highly technical force that requires training and years of experience to execute the mission.

    As for the supposed “retirement” compensation that is constantly discussed we need to understand what it truly is before any educated conversation can be had on the subject. The payment at the end of 20 years of service is truly a service stipend not a retirement. Very few service members truly “retire” when they leave active duty, they can’t possibly do it on the compensation they receive. Let’s take a look at a 20 year E7. When they leave the military their stipend will be approximately $2170 a month or $26,040 a year. On face value that seems like a lot for their service and I can see how some could be outraged, but now let’s peel back the onion and truly see the ramifications of leaving the military.

    That same E7 when he or she was in had a base pay of $4371 a month or $56,772 a year. When you add in the average Basic Allowance for Housing and Substance now we are looking at approximately $75,000 a year and this does not include medial and other minor benefits. Now here is the kicker what do you supposed the average pay will be for that service member when they leave the military? In the experience I have seen it is quite a bit less. One former Air Force member I know has been offered as high as $37,000 a year. That needless condensation that I constantly read articles stating needs to be removed is what allows enlisted members to serve until they reach a point that the military says you are required to leave, and then still be able to survive because of the drastic pay cut they will most likely face in transitioning to the civilian world.

    The 401K may work in the civilian workforce, but it is not the proper compensation for military members. Yes that money can be stowed away and is there when they turn 60, but what are they supposed to do until then when they take drastic pay cuts leaving service? Service members will not start at the top of the pay ladder in companies. They will have to begin again at the bottom and work their way up. This stipend allows for that transition without crushing service members at what in most cases is the most expensive time of their lives, children in high school and starting college. If a civilian transitions jobs it is many times voluntarily to make more money or better location. The military member is told thank you for your service, but you have to go, no options. How will a system that they cannot touch until they are 60 help them then? Removing this compensation will ensure the only military members that stay and serve are the ones that can get employed nowhere else so they have no choice but to hold out as long as they can. Not the service I want to be a part of.

    One additional bit of information on compensation costs for the DoD. Congress has currently put together a committee to look at these costs. One of the things they are finding is the costs are no longer growing out of control. They are staying right in line with the DoD’s annual budget increase. Many of the increases that have been implemented were one time changes and will no longer affect future budgets. For instance the targeted pay raises that brought military members closer in line with civilian counterparts are all in the past so they will not generate any more increases. The increase in housing implemented a decade ago will not be increased again and in fact is being drawn back slightly. The increases to tuition assistance have all been implemented for many years. The services are all drawing their manning down, so they drastically reduced numbers will also drastically reduce costs. In fact the retirement system has already changed once averaging the last three years of pay instead of only basing on your last pay check, so there have already been reductions. The list goes on. Medical is the only cost that really needs a hard look, because of its potential for increase in the future. All other compensations have already been paid for long ago and will not be increased again, so I am not quite sure where the sky is falling theory of runaway compensation costs come from.

  17. Robert Gawrys 31 July, 2014 at 16:23 Reply

    What LTC Darling (and almost every other proponent of similar thinking) does not address is this simple question: What kind of leader will we get in the 11th to 30th year of a carrer when NCO’s or Officers are operating in their mid to senior-grades, if Congress strips away the single largest benefit they have (a monthly pension calculated at 2.5% of base pay per year served)? How many competant professionals will put up with overseas deployments, constant changes of station and the uproot of their family, a lack of meaningful and well-paying career for their spouse, not gaining truely marketable and relevant civilian experience and connections, having to maintain strict physical fitness and bodyfat standards, and accepting an almost complete loss of personal and professional freedom — all for a 401k? You can’t apply civilian retirement incentives to a lifestyle and career that is almost completely opposite.

    Ask anyone who is at around 8-11 years of service whether they’d stay in past that point if all they can look forward to is a 5% match of base pay towards their TSP (i.e. 401k). The current pension system is needed in order to keep our best and brightest on board. Without it, any competant individual will jump ship while they’re still young enough to adequately compete in the civilian marketplace. Not everyone retires as a Colonel or General, slipping into cushy contractor jobs or corporate positions.

    • Robert Gawrys 31 July, 2014 at 16:41 Reply

      As a follow-up, I see that this site has no way of editing a post. With that said, please forgive the spelling errors above. In my haste to post a reply, I forgot to run a spell check!

      I’d also like to say that I know LTC Darling. As a fellow Alaska Guardsman, he was my rater for over a year. He is an extremely intelligent and well read officer and has had a mixed career of active and reserve time, to include a GWOT deployment. He makes many valid points in his article.

  18. Jonathan 31 July, 2014 at 17:11 Reply

    As an active-duty officer with just under 4 years of service, I would love to see the TSP start matching contributions, so that those of us who get out before 20 years for whatever reason don’t leave empty handed. It gives a reward proportionate to the time served. This doesn’t have to take away from retirement. Perhaps if someone goes to 20, the matched funds of the TSP they contributed to are forfeit in lieu of receiving pension and health care; or at your 10 year mark you can opt out of matched contributions to the TSP to aim for retirement. I do not like the author’s idea of making it an opt-in choice at the beginning of your service when you literally have no idea what’s going on in your life right then, let alone what you’re going to be thinking 5, 10, 15 years down the line.

  19. John 1 August, 2014 at 13:31 Reply

    I would like to see a law passed that you have to have served to get a federal job and at the state and local level you had to have served on active duty or in the reserves/guard. The comments about the author being a part timer or reservist are insulting. If you do not like his proposals, make some counter proposals. Personally I like the 20 year retirement system but maybe there is a better system.

    • Luddite4Change 2 August, 2014 at 20:07 Reply

      The comments on the author being a reservist or quasi-reservist (he is actually AGR, full time active duty) are not irrelevant, as it give a window on the perspective that the author is coming from.

      His proposals are worthy of discussion (I actually like the idea of military service prior to qualifying for civilian employment, though its not practical given numbers), but the downside of any proposals need to be aired and considered also. If not, we end up with the fiasco that was the REDUX.

  20. Mister Sense 10 August, 2014 at 11:28 Reply

    This is not rocket science and I find the suggestions of migrating a vested retirement plan to a 401K senseless, ludicrous and disrespectful to the 3% (and much smaller that retires) that serve.

    Has anyone watched Frontline’s The Retirement Gamble on 401K investing? From the 1970s-1990s, companies like IBM and other Fortune 500s moved from a pension plan to the 401K because (as stated in this thread), people were living longer and the costs of pensions were insurmountable. But if you look at the average American today who now has a 401K, none of them have enough money saved to have an adequate retirement. Many will have to work for the rest of the lives or into their late 70s. Market crashes and fees have taken major bites from many of the 401Ks including mine. I have a ROTH IRA and the TSP and I started in my 20s (I am in my late 40s) and I am still below six figures. And social security benefits will be much lower (if any) when I am finally eligible for it.

    Also, to suggest an active duty member to receive their retirement at 60 a la NG and a Reservists is also ridiculous because of the amount of time that an active duty member dedicates to military service. It is far from a 9 to 5. I served in all components and Reserve/NG does not hold a candle to AD service (especially in m-day status); even for those in AGR or technician positions. I know many AD people who have moved to AGR because of their attractiveness and working in smaller communities away from major military installations and yet to receive the same perks.

    In my case, I have 24 years of service; 10 that was spent in the Reserves and National Guard. I have a 7 year break of service with 4 years active service in the Marines and now over 11 years of active service in the US Army. I came back on active duty after 9/11 and now have completed three combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. I will be near 54 when I have reached my 20 years of AD (that is if I am not passed over and then possibly eligible for TERA). And you still suggesting I wait to 60 to collect my pension?

    As an officer, I have served countless hours and spent months in the field and on rotations at NTC and JRTC. I served 13 years in corporate America and even though I might have a more relaxed work environment in the civilian sector, the benefits do not match the military’s and that is why I have remained this far on active duty.

    I grew up poor in Harlem and have seen the abuses of welfare, unemployment fraud and SSI and worker’s comp abuses. During the last decade, we have seen an increase in welfare, SSI and unemployment benefits and our deficit increase exponentially. This article is simply Peter robbing to pay Paul. Why take benefits from people who actually work hard and contribute to the security of this nation? Yes, many civilians are in dire need of assistance but why those benefits seem to increase and ours (e.g. tricare, commissary, base closures) are suggesting to become less and less? Cmon? Does that really make sense to you? Solving our problem is cutting endless programs and entitlements that the Federal Government (and states) exploit with no monitoring and/or controls.

    And the notion of giving payouts to people who just serve 4 to 10 years of service is a dumb idea as well. Basic pay increases just need to be limited; as well as allowances. Trust me, I can live very well without requiring a raise every year. But do not cut the 20-year retirement whatsoever. You will only get the substandard (also the ones that cannot obtain a decent civilian job) to serve and careerists will decrease.

  21. Jager Oster 21 August, 2014 at 19:35 Reply

    Budgetary excesses have emerged from the civilian contractors sector employed to supplement military function. Quasi moto rules apply and pay is not comparable with active duty personnel. Not much difference with the Labor Workers Unions and the Civilian Defense Contractors, over stepping the value and accountability for their products, placing existential forebearance on an employer and its escalated cost transfer to the consumer. In other words they are pricing theirselves out of business.

  22. Donald E. Casavecchia 17 February, 2015 at 13:22 Reply

    Not having reviewed the 16 major studies on the U.S. Military Retirement system, based on pre-2005 data, these comments are personal opinion only. Paul Darling’s posting does identify two elements contributing to our country’s annual budget – the true cost of maintaining a trained standing armed force; and long-term individual service stipend paid for those service members that dedicated more than 20 years to active service. I believe each of these elements are separate budget line items that need to be funded based on our country’s need for a standing armed force, and our country’s moral obligation to those that dedicated their best years ensuring that standing force was fully prepared for what our Commander-and-Chief committed that standing force to.
    This posting, together with 30+ comments, convey the complexity of budgeting for both line-items. Paul Darling hits on several considerations that deserve full attention during focused budgetary meetings. The majority of posted comments likewise contain very worthy topics for focused budgetary meetings. The bullets that follow are my opinions for further discussion:
    Each new generation of men and women are living longer
    World incidents leading to U.S. Armed Forces commitment are ever changing
    “Boots on-the-ground” should be the smallest component of the “standing armed force”
    Do we really need separate NCO and Officer Corps
    I don’t believe anyone should consider a 401k to replace a service stipend
    Why do we have TSP and 401(letter) programs – merge to one program
    Our country has one armed force; trained in separate disciplines (sea, air, ground); do we really need separate Army, Navy, Air Force; or could one armed force be considered
    Who am I: Navy (CTRCS) retired (1966-86); Employed ‘Beltway Bandits’ (1986-2007)

  23. Nick 8 March, 2015 at 22:03 Reply

    Speaking from my own experience and opinion I agree with a lot of this article. However, I believe that the 20 year pension should remain, at the least for those that have at least X amount of years in service. From a Recruiter standpoint and someone who has served on both Active and curretnly serving in the Guard it has become increasing more difficult to continue service to or beyond 20 yrs for a number or reasons. Lack of upward mobilty is a huge retention issue. The amount of senoir enlisted positions continue to get cut making it extremely more competitive and more difficult to move up. Along with that funding for training or schools has been cut handicapping the ability for individuals to increase their skills to become more marketable or set themselves apart. Also you have ASMB and QRB boards that cut people off once they’ve reached a certain point in their careers. Another point I want to add and from my point of view its the most important. Making a career in the Military is very different than a career in the civilian sector for a number of reasons. Ultimately it is sacrifice. Military members are molded and adopt a way of life that unfortunatley has a shelf life. Everything we do is Military from the way we talk or communicate to the our uniforms to the regulations we follow. It becomes engrained in us to our cores. So much that at the age of 40 when we’ve lived this way for 20 years when we’re non-retained and forced to find a new career many struggle. With out that direct compensation the families would crumble with out financial stability. The Military pension is great but its not the be all and end all. Retires still have to work and now you have a 40 year old leaving the Military after 20 years to join the civilian work force competing with people half their age.

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