On January 1, the military received a 2.1 percent pay raise, the largest increase for the military in six years. Politicians continually debate the issue of pay raises for the military—with advocates typically framing such raises as the only way to compensate a servicemember’s service and sacrifice. As one of those who serves, I disagree. The military does not need another pay raise. Instead we need to increase the number and quality of services provided to troops. The strength of our nation’s military rests on retaining high-caliber men and women in uniform. Far more important than large pay raises, improving services directly impacts our ability to do so. Failing to recognize this will lead to loss of talent in our ranks. This is undoubtedly an issue of military readiness.
As a newly minted mother, my most precious asset is time. From the time I was a private first class, I usually chose to live off post. In most cases, off-post housing seemed more desirable than on-post options. Recently, this has changed with housing and community renovations. As a result, posts that offer quality housing options have a waiting list that can have unfortunate effects for a servicemember about to PCS (permanent change of station). For example, on Fort Bragg the average wait time for a home is 4–6 weeks, but has been as long as twelve months for single-family homes. Fort Hood has wait times up to 4–6 months for select housing. Living out of a suitcase or making two moves consumes time and degrades a family’s quality of life. Most servicemembers would elect to go with off-post housing when faced with these lengthy wait times.
Families consider a number of variables when considering whether or not to live on post. Quality of the education systems, neighborhood safety, and housing amenities all make the list. After getting married, the number one reason I chose to live on post was the short commute time. The ability to cut my commute time from thirty minutes to five minutes, door to door, gives me nearly an extra hour to spend with my family each day. Servicemembers who live off post also need to battle gate traffic, adding more time to their commute. Some will argue that private sector workers also have to endure long commutes, too. While true, the average work day for a servicemember extends beyond the typical 9-to-5. Working 0630 to 1730 constrains time, making it a special commodity for those in uniform. But what is also true is that non-military workers who want that extra time with family can change jobs, or move to a new town with less traffic and lower commute times. Not so for those in uniform—until a servicemember is deciding whether to stay in or get out, at which point the military risks losing trained and experienced personnel.
Another benefit that needs to attention is on-post child care. Currently, on-post Child Development Center (CDC) care seems nearly impossible to get. Waitlists extend into the next year, leaving parents with only off-post solutions. Even approved Family Child Care (FCC) providers are overbooked. For example, if a servicemember is told today that he or she will PCS to Fort Bragg or Fort Hood in six months, the anticipated placement time in child care for an infant is 3–11 months beyond the date at which the servicemember will report to the new duty location.
Certainly we can see the effects on mission readiness for single parents and dual military couples. Even lower on the priority list are families who have spouses not in the military. Husbands and wives who make incredible sacrifices to support their soldiers are now also being forced to provide their own child care solution. Pushing servicemembers to rely on services out of the CDC or FCC network could degrade mission readiness if the care is not sufficiently flexible to handle situations, for example, where military training goes longer than expected. Some states and many off-post daycares limit childcare to ten hours a day, which does not coincide with the typical military routine. Using off-post care also costs travel time and eliminates a parent’s options for an occasional midday visits.
The members of the all-volunteer force have endured multiple deployments that stressed both servicemembers and families—enough so that highly capably men and women have chosen to get out. Our military readiness depends on keeping them in and retaining their experience and institutional knowledge as the backbone of a strong force. Ask any military member why he or she serves, and the answer will not be money. Most serve because they love their country as much as they love spending time with their families.
Image credit: Maj. Johnpaul Arnold, US Army
As a retired senior officer, I can agree with MAJ Biering’s point of view with one caveat: junior enlisted and NCOs could use a pay bump. Right now, even with allowances, these salaries aren’t much better than minimum wage, even though we’ve invested significant sums into training these kids (I’m old enough to call ’em that!) to function in complex environments and interact with complex technology. But they reach the end of their first enlistment still making not much, which weighs heavily on decisions to re-enlist, particularly for those troops with families. As a result, we lose plenty of first-term enlistees, particularly those in short-manned career fields, for which we hire well-paid contractors to fill gaps…who are recruited from our trained first-term enlistees. While we can’t — and shouldn’t — match industry in straight-up compensation, we should attempt to insure pay doesn’t overwhelm other attractions to continued service.
Bravo Zulu to Maj. Danielle Biering who makes valuable observations on Soldier and Army Family quality of life and readiness issues. Money does not substitute for time with or for family, access to medical and dental care, education, community services and a myriad of other mattes that directly and indirectly best on readiness. A spartan monastic or cloistered culture will not be possible nor would it reflect our society, let alone serve our nation best. Having said that a pay increase should be welcome, just not a substitute for more systemic support and sustainment.
I disagree with MAJ Biering’s assertian that we do not need another pay raise. Congress already reduced our salaries and we don’t need our salaries reduced any more. Congress reduced our take home pay when they passed the National Defense Authorition Act of 2017 (NDAA17). NDAA 17 decreased our BAH and gave us a 2.1% raise. Unfortunately, the decrease in BAH is greater than the pay raise, resulting in a net loss. The good news is the 2017 BAH rates don’t go into effect immdediately. None the less we lost money with the BAH reduction.
Not only do we lose money at the end of the month we pay more taxes. BAH is tax free. The recent change in BAH, combined with the 2.1% pay raise results in a greater portion of you pay check being taxed and you taking less home every month.
MAJ Biering additionally states we don’t serve for the money. Numerous studies show the opposite. Soldiers serve for the money. This is why the Army offers reenlistment bonuses, college scholarships and CSB/REDUX to keep people in uniform.
We need to be careful when talk about our pay. We sacrificed greatly for this nation as Maj Biering pointed out and for that deserve a suitable retirement at a reasonable cost to the government. Advocating for not giving Soldiers a deserving pay raise risks our younger Soldiers retirements. We must not be short sighted in advocating for necessary services such as child care and on post housing. These services are requirements of the all volunteer force and should be fully funded. Soldier pay is a seperate issue and must keep in line with inflation to enure the Army is ready to fight.
The service members’ pay increase is determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index and growth in private-sector wages. However, in some cases, the President can propose a lower or higher pay raise. Increasing service members’ pay is crucial so as to meet the increased cost of living that varies from year to year.
For several years, military pay raises have been kept below two percent while service members’ and their Families have been strained by deployments. Therefore, there is a need for military pay increases that has been lagging behind the private sectors for years. Moreover, several organizations such as the National Military Family Association have been advocates for service members’ receiving higher pay increases.
Although an incalculable number of service members are in the military due to the love, they have towards their country, appreciating their services by raising their income will motivate them in doing what they do best. The service members will make good use of their talents and skills to ensure they remain relevant in protecting the country from terrorists and other enemies.
In summary, I stress that raising annual military pay is important. The service members deserve to live decent lives and being appreciated for the hard work they engage in while maintaining safety to the government and its citizens. Service members sacrifice their lives with the aim of maintaining the overall security of our country, and no amount of money can compensate for what we do for the country. Therefore, increasing annual pay is a sign of appreciation, and as a government, it is acceptable to value the hard work of the military.
While increased services are required, so is base pay. The issue with services is they aren’t distributed equitably. A young NCO in the barracks is not concerned about base housing, BAH, or CDC. Increased pay allows service members to spend in accordance with their specific needs and priorities.