Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Once each month, about 6,500 citizen soldiers from across Oregon travel to their respective armories to train for response to both manmade and natural disasters — and they could soon have their drill pay cut in half.
The reduction in pay has been recommended by a Department of Defense internal study group to make up for the loss of about $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
The pay issue could affect 130 soldiers assigned to Alpha Company, a mechanized infantry unit, at The Dalles Armory and 80 soldiers at the Hood River Armory with Fox Company, comprised of infantry and support platoons.
In 2010, President Barack Obama initiated the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, which must take place every four years. Obama specified that Reserve and Guard compensation and benefits be part of the study, which included input from the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.
The review resulted in a recommendation for Guard and Reserve pay reductions “to ensure equitable pay for similar service” with the active-duty component of the military.
The Pentagon is now in the process of implementing almost $500 billion in cuts that were mandated under the Budget Control Act of 2011, a law aimed at curbing the government’s trillion-dollar budget deficits and growing debt.
The National Guard Association of the United States, voice for about 500,000 citizen soldiers, has protested the comparison, saying it fails to factor in many differences in service.
“There is no recognition in the QRMC of the vast difference in service between the reserve components and the actives. Unlike the active forces, the National Guard member bears the expense in time and money for travel to drills, physical training, medical readiness care, family care and attending to many unit administrative responsibilities.
“Our members do so while observing the minuteman ethos of being always ready to be called from family, civilian employment or school to state or overseas duty as the situation may warrant,” stated a position paper published July 10 by the association.
Currently, a specialist in the Guard receives $315.08 for one weekend of training each month. Pay graduates to $401.72 for a sergeant and $478 for a staff sergeant.
The Quadrennial’s recommendation was to maintain the status quo for pay tied to the two-week annual training of citizen soldiers.
All seven members of Oregon’s Congressional Delegation oppose the pay cut proposal and sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to outline their concerns.
“We are proud of the sacrifices made by the members of the Oregon National Guard. They work hard to maintain a high level of readiness and have regularly been called up to serve in combat zones over the past 10 years. They deserve the best we have to offer for their service. What has been placed on the table by the QRMC is simply unacceptable,” states the Aug. 1 letter signed by U.S. senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., as well as U.S. representatives Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and Democrats Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici.
The legislators also question the Quadrennial’s stated intent to create greater continuity between active-duty and Guard and Reserve components of the military with the proposal for a disparate retirement plan. The review proposed that Guard and Reservists wait until the anniversary of their 30th year of service or age 60 to collect retirement benefits. Active duty troops can retire after completing 20 years of qualifying service.
In July, Walden was one of 28 House members to send a letter about the issue to Army General Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“Unfortunately, comparing active pay to National Guard pay is in many ways comparing apples to oranges,” stated the July 19 letter.
The House members wrote that active duty forces on stateside assignments commonly work an eight-hour workday, five days a week and are off for the weekend.
“When a National Guard member or Reservist attends a drill weekend, the service member is under the command and control of his or her leadership 24 hours around the clock until released. Drill weekend time clock starts at midnight on Friday and goes until midnight on Sunday. This adds up to a 48-hour period. Many units utilize this time fully, especially if the unit is scheduled to drill at a location, other than home station for field or weapons training,” stated the letter.
The legislators point out that, to create an accurate comparison between active duty and Guard components, drill weekends would need to be limited to an 8-hour day on both Saturday and Sunday.
“This concept would, without a doubt, negatively affect training and readiness beyond reasonable limits,” they wrote.
Army National Guard soldiers and Reservists from the Marines, Air Force and Navy have provided 60 percent of the fighting force in the post-9/11 wars, according to Department of Defense data.
“To consider a proposal of this nature is not only unreasonable, it is irresponsible. In a time where our active component is being downsized, we should be doing everything we can to increase recruitment and retention in the reserve component among those who have a desire to continue serving our great country,” stated the House letter that was copied to Panetta and Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The act established a special congressional panel to find another $1.5 trillion in federal spending reductions. In an attempt to force the group to overcome partisan differences, the law mandated that failure to make a deal would trigger across-the-board spending cuts of $1.2 trillion on Jan. 2, 2013, about half of which would be from defense.
Panetta said these combined reductions will result in the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915 and the smallest Air Force in history.
Republican House members, which make up the majority of their chamber, are now pressuring Senate Democrats, the majority party, to return to the nation’s capital in August and hammer out an agreement that will prevent defense cuts from being enacted.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has pledged to call the House back into session from summer break to send solutions to Obama’s desk.
The House has passed numerous pieces of legislation to replace defense cuts with reductions in domestic programs but none have moved forward after reaching the Senate. Republicans claim they signed the Budget Control Act only after receiving a commitment that the president and Democratic leadership in the Senate would work on a deficit reduction package that would avert the automatic cuts, something that did not happen.
The president and Senate leaders have accused Republicans of holding up progress on budget reforms by refusing to tie spending reductions to tax increases on the nation’s wealthiest citizens.
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Kiteboarders in action during the pro competition Friday at the 16th Annual Bridge of the Gods Kite Fest in Stevenson. All photos by Ben Mitchell. Enlarge