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Dempsey Stresses Need for Military Balance in Senate Hearing

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2014 – Pay and compensation are only one part of a broader challenge to the Defense Department to maintain the balance the military needs to fight the nation’s wars, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and the rest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before the committee to ask the senators to support recommendations to slow the growth of military compensation. The senior enlisted leaders of the services sat behind the chiefs to express their solidarity to the proposals.

"We’re working to make sure that the joint force is in the right balance to preserve military options for the nation in the face of a changing security environment and a declining budget,” the chairman told the senators. “We’ve been tasked to reduce the defense budget by up to $1 trillion over 10 years while upholding our sacred obligation to properly train, equip and prepare the force.”

Doing this means the department must carefully allocate resources to ensure that if service members are sent into harm’s way, they are the best-led, best-trained and best-equipped force on the battlefield. This requires balance among competing fiscal accounts.

Making fiscal choices requires certainty, time and flexibility, Dempsey said. “While we have a degree of certainty in our budget for the next two years, really for this year, we still don’t have a predictable funding stream or the flexibility and time we need to reset the force for the challenges ahead,” he said.

The military needs Congress to step forward and help, Dempsey said. “Our recommendations have lacked congressional support -- notably, our request to reduce base infrastructure and retire weapons systems that we no longer need and cannot afford,” the chairman told the senators. “In the meantime, we are continuing to hemorrhage readiness and cutting further into modernization. [This means] risk to the performance of our mission and risk to those who serve continues to grow.”

Dempsey told the senators that all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all of the services’ senior enlisted leaders support the three departmentwide principles to rebalance military compensation.

“First, we’re not advocating direct cuts to troops’ pay,” Dempsey said. “Rather, this package slows the growth of basic pay and housing allowances while reducing commissary subsidies and modernizing our health care system.”

Second, military leaders will ensure that the compensation package allows the services to continue to attract and retain the quality people needed, Dempsey said. “We’ll watch the way the force reacts, and if it reacts, we’ll be back to you with recommendations on how to adjust,” he added. “But we have to take that step.”

Finally, Dempsey told the Senate panel, savings from this will be invested in force readiness and modernization.

The chairman emphasized that none of these recommendations would impinge on care for wounded warriors or on the mental health challenges facing the force.

“We’re seeking $31 billion in savings in pay compensation and health care over the future-year defense program,” the general said. “If we don’t get it, we’ll have to take $31 billion out of readiness, modernization and force structure over that same period.”

Delaying the decision until next year will mean a two-year delay in implementation, Dempsey said, which would force the department to restore about $18 billion in lost savings.

“In short, we have submitted a balanced package that meets budgetary limits, enables us to fulfill the current defense strategy and allows us to recruit and retain the exceptional talent that we need,” Dempsey said. “Our people are our greatest strength and they do deserve the best support we can provide.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)