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Forum weighs pay, retirement modernization

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:32PM December 19th, 2013

With the growing national budget deficit, it’s common knowledge that expenses will be cut in the next few years.

Whether it’s the commander of Joint Base Lewis-McChord or a retired veteran representing a local chapter of the American Legion, people are steeling themselves in preparation for leaner times.

The concern of the military is how to save money without diminishing readiness.

“I think the fiscal challenges must be solved as a team effort, and we are part of that team as (Department of Defense),” said JBLM Commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr.

That is why four of the nine members of DOD’s Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission — selected by Congress and President Barack Obama — visited JBLM Dec. 12 and 13 to solicit ideas on military pay, retirement benefits and health care among other programs.

“Our goal is whatever we do is to ensure the viability of our military force, make sure we provide a quality of life for service members and their families and ensure fiscal responsibility,” said MCRMC chairman Alphonso Maldon Jr.

The MCRMC members met Dec. 12 with the JBLM commanders, military spouses, service members from low, middle and higher ranking and representatives from different readiness programs at Eagles Pride Golf Course.

Three of the members held a town hall meeting at French Theater on Lewis Main to allow Soldiers, spouses and veterans to voice their concerns and share ideas about modernization in the current budget environment.

A common theme voiced throughout the day was the desire for adequate pay to motivate service members and their families to stay in the military, echoed during the morning panel discussion with JBLM commanders.

“Some of our service members do have families,” said 7th Infantry Division Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Murphy.

Follow-on discussions at French Theater addressed how to make cuts without taking away programs from both active duty and retired service members.

Retired Lt. Col. Thomas Morgan suggested cutting costs for expensive equipment to save jobs.

“We could have taken Baghdad with World War II equipment,” Morgan said.

Other veterans worried aloud about the number of cuts to health care benefits they’ve already absorbed and how much Congress might further erode their benefits. One asked about rumors of surcharge increases at the commissary and a possible membership fee.

Similar questions and concerns have been brought up to members of the commission the last few months with panels and town halls held at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and in Naval Station Norfolk, Va.

“I think that it’s helpful for people to hear from the commission in terms of what kinds of things we’re doing,” Maldon said. “They want to make sure they know what “modernization” means — people think ‘you’re really going to cut programs.’”

Congress established the MCRMC under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 as a nine-member commission to review compensation and programs.

Maldon said consensus in the military community is cuts that are coming.

“But at the same time, one of the common trends is that everybody has to tighten their belt, as long as it’s done in a fair and equitable way. Don’t let others get by and let (the military) take the biggest cut,” Maldon said.

Near the end of the town hall meeting, one veteran asked the commission to follow through with their recommendations made to Congress and be advocates for the military community.

“We really need you to continue with it if you truly believe in what you recommend,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Brandstetter.

With more visits programmed before the report’s due date, Maldon said there is plenty of time to compile data from more public hearings and analysis of surveys, interviews and military focus groups.

“When we come to the end of the road, we’re going to know as much as any commission has ever known — even more so,” Maldon said. “We will be very comfortable as a commission that we’ve done what we need to do because we’ll have the information to back it up.”

For those who were unable to attend or comment during any of the public panels, Maldon recommends submitting comments through the commission’s website at www.mcrmc.gov.