Copyright John T. Reed 2013
The brief fight, then retreat of politicians in the battle about reducing the inflation adjustments of military retirees was total bullshit.
The military retirees should have their benefits cut far more than Congress almost did.
The main problem is that Megyn Kelly and Hannity and a whole lot of others are deliberately misleading the nation with regard to who we are talking about and what they did or did not do.
The budget deal only applied to military retirees age 61 or younger.
Retirees are former military personnel who spent 20 or more years on active duty. Some were allowed to retire earlier due to wounds. I am not familiar with the details of that regulation.
It is said that they “risked their lives for their country.” If they mean that they served in a combat zone, it’s not necessarily so.
Many currently living U.S. military retirees may have never served in a combat zone. Here is a list of our wars since Korea:
Vietnam 1964-1975 (not everyone who was on active duty during that time served in Vietnam; most reservists did not)
Lebanon 1983 (suicide bomber explosion killed 241 marines; U.S. withdrew after that)
Grenada 1983 (21 days; 19 U.S. KIA)
Panama 1989 (42 days, 23 US KIA)
Desert Storm 1990-1991 (100 hours; 190 U.S. KIA by enemy, 292 killed by friendly fire and accidents)
Somalia 1992-1994 (18 KIA in Blackhawk Down)
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are well known and have cost about 6,700 US dead.
Now think about the size of these wars and the start and end points of a 20-year career. For example if you join the military in 1953 at age 17, you can retire on half-pay and almost free medical for life at age 37 in 1973. If you enlisted at age 17 in 1973, there is almost no chance you would have served in Vietnam because of the prior drawn-down of U.S. forces there. You could have retired 20 years later at age 37 in 1993. What wars did you risk your life in? Probably none. What few wars we had in that period were tiny, brief, and resulted in few U.S. dead.
And what about the word “retiree.” It suggest an old person who can’t work anymore. 37! The typical military retiree is not retired. He is double dipping by working at a civilian federal or other government job building up a second government pension. Many brag of triple and quadruple dipping.
Also consider what percent of the people who serve on active duty in the U.S. military ever become retirees. Only 17% according to a 9/18/2011 New York Times article.
So the U.S. military retirees are not “the people who risked their lives for our freedom.” I did that and I am no lifer retiree. Ditto my dad and uncles in World War II and the Korean War.
According to an ABC news story dated 11/11//11, there are 22,658,000 Americans who have been on active duty in the U.S. military. I would guess no more than 10% got to retirement—lower than the recent 17% because millions were drafted into World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. They got out as soon as they could. That means 90% x 22,658,000 or about 20,400,000 who risked their lives to the extent of being on active duty during various periods of peace and war are not part of this reduction in future inflation adjustments.
If the lifers had all died the day before their 20th anniversary of joining the military, that is, never retired, we would not be any less free. They are the mere tail of the defending-freedom dog, not the dog.
Furthermore, at least at the officer ranks, lifers do less risking and less dying that the non-lifers. Indeed by definition, the lifer retirees did NONE of the dying. Lieutenants and captains command platoons and companies. I was a platoon leader in Vietnam. Lieutenants and captains, among officers, do the vast majority of the officer dying. Lifer officers spend at least half their time on active duty at the rank of major and higher. Majors are staff officers. Colonels command battalions and brigades, but those jobs suffer very few casualties in post-Korea wars.
Then there are the various branches and locations. Here is a list of the branches within the Army:
Adjutant General's Corps (human resources or personnel)
Air Defense Artillery (I do not believe any U.S. military personnel have been attacked from the air since the Korean War in the early 1950s)
Chemical Corps (chemical weapons have been outlawed since World War I and I am not aware of any U.S. military personnel being attacked with chemical weapons since World War I which ended in 1918 for you low-information voters)
Civil Affairs (?)
Combat Medic (These guys ought to get double pay)
Corps of Engineers (build bridges, clear mines, build fortifications)
Field Artillery (seems relatively unuseful in wars against small bands of hit-and-run civilians)
Finance Corps (mainly handing out money on pay day; risking their lives for your freedom?)
Functional Area (damned if I know what this is but I’ll bet it produces military retirees)
Infantry (If anyone risks their lives it’s these guys, but they are a minority of active-duty personnel)
Medical Service Corps (make sure the latrines are not too close to the field kitchen)
Military Intelligence (by definition well behind the lines so they do not get captured)
Military Police Corps (their enemy is generally U.S. military personnel who are drunk or on drugs or otherwise behaving criminally)
Ordnance Corps (weapons specialists)
Psychological Operations (create broadcasts and leaflets to encourage enemy to surrender)
Quartermaster Corps (supply, logistics)
Signal Corps (communications, my branch, usually part of all types of units. I was an infantry battalion commo officer in the 82nd Airborne and in a mixed-heavy artillery battalion in Vietnam so their danger was my danger)
Special Forces (green berets, train and assist indigenous forces in the foreign country in question)
Transportation Corps (truckers like that female enlisted woman who got wounded in Iraq then was rescued from an unguarded hospital)
Veterinary Corps (take care of scout dogs I guess)
Roughly speaking, all of the above produce military retirees, but only the infantry, medics, and dismounted armor have many casualties. Aviation also can have casualties, but that probably varies according to how they are used in a particular situation. (In Vietnam and since then, the Army generally leaves its tanks home, but sends the armor personnel into battle as mechanized infantry. Kind of a fraud. See my article on that at http://www.johntreed.com/armor.html.)
So much of, or most of, the “cuts” to military retirees, affect guys whose branch had extremely light casualties. When there was an active draft, many enlisted rather than be drafted because doing so let you pick your service (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard) and your branch and it was well known that some services and branches had very few casualties. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the services other than Army and Marines and SEALs seem to have almost no casualties. But they sure as hell retire and were hoping to get those full cost-of-living raises to their pensions while they were working at their double-dip civilian government job.
Exactly where you are in Vietnam or Afghanistan or World War II theaters makes all the difference. My dad was in an artillery battalion in the 79th Infantry Division, but he took typing in high school so he was made the battery clerk, the job made famous by “Radar O’Reilly” in MASH. The typical Vietnam veteran was probably a truck driver in Da Nang, not charging up hills at the enemy blasting away with his M-16.
I could have been killed in Vietnam traveling around to the various bases where some of my men were stationed, but other than driving through a North Vietnamese ambush that let me through unharmed before they ambushed a convoy that came after me, I am not aware that I came close to being killed. I was often at rear area bases that saw occasional no-casualty rocket attacks. Were we risking our lives back there? I surmise a lot of Vietnam vets would have you believe that, but if you had said it at the time, there, we would have laughed out loud.
The ratio of died in Vietnam to served in Vietnam was about 1% overall and about 3% for my West Point class. Were we risking our lives? Yeah, overall on average we were taking about a 1% risk. But like I said, the risk was much lower for most services, branches, and actual locations within the combat theater.
Was there no one else risking their lives in American society? Sure there was. Police, firemen, highway workers, ironworkers, circus performers, people crossing the street, people driving in cars, people living in bad neighborhoods.
I hate this bullshit notion that just putting on a U.S. military uniform makes you a “hero” and that being in a combat zone is “risking your life for freedom and to protect us back home.” We got combat pay for being in Vietnam—anywhere in Vietnam in any branch or job, no matter how safe. Lots of guys extended in Vietnam. That is, when their year was up, they volunteered to stay for another six months or a year. Many extended again and again until they were ordered home because the army started to get suspicious of them. I did not extend or try to.
Were those extenders John Wayne’s? Nah. They preferred the bush in ’Nam because they liked cheap illegal drugs, whores, and the much lower level of chickenshit that comes from being so far from “the flag.” “The flag” is the headquarters of the battalion or higher commander.
Hell, I had to be ordered back to battalion headquarters once. I was on a temporary detail to a place called Bunard. A squad of my men were providing an AN/GRC 26D radio teletype service to a battalion of South Vietnamese rangers camped on the Bunard airstrip.
Bunard was, before, during, and after that operation a U.S. Special Forces (green berets) A camp. We slept in tents, ate in a field kitchen, used outhouses, and showered out in the open under a 55-gallon drum with a pull-chain shower head. I was sent out there to make sure we got set up and functioned properly. Although it was spartan and so far out that you could only get there by aircraft and we would spot North Vietnamese in the hills around us, I kind of liked it. I was the highest ranking American I saw normally. There was no chickenshit. I had no orders to return. I was the assistant platoon leader of that platoon so the guys back at Plantation Post near Long Binh were adequately commanded and there was nothing for me to do back there, so I stayed. I remember it as a sort of “summer time and the living is easy” summer-camp type experience. If we had come under ground attack, we could have been killed or wounded, but we didn’t. Battalion finally ordered me to come back so I got on the next C-130 and left, unhappily.
Was I defending freedom and the folks back home? If I had said something to that effect at one of the outdoor meals in Bunard everyone would would have said, “Yeah, right. Save it for impressing the girls back in the world.” What were we really doing? Following orders. All of us at Bunard had been sent there by higher so we went. My guys and I were supposed to send and receive teletype messages and we did.
I am proud of the work I did to prepare that squad for that assignment and my work, along with that of my men there, is probably why it went flawlessly. If another officer had been assigned the duty, he probably would have assumed the equipment would work and got out there and found that it did not. I made sure before we left including driving over rough road to simulate the C-130 delivery to Bunard. That did break the radio, but we figured out where it broke back at battalion headquarters before the mission and repaired those places and made sure we took those particular spare parts to Bunard.
But in the event, being there, did not feel like “defending freedom” or any other abstract bullshit about the people back home. It was stinking hot and humid, potentially dangerous with regard to the enemy. We were a million miles from home, the food was field kitchen okay. Showering naked in front of Montagnard women, who were themselves topless, was National Geographic not Playboy, and uncomfortable. It was an adventure. Like summer camp hardship. But we had movies and plenty of male companionship. We were paid reasonably well, but you could not spend money in Bunard, literally. It was a life devoid of the daily cares and woes of back home in the U.S. We just had one big worry: enemy attack. But those were blessedly rare.
My experience in Bunard probably roughly matched the typical combat experience of most guys in World War II, Korea, and subsequent wars. The movie South Pacific sort of captured it. I remember seeing that movie when I was a kid and being pissed that it was just about girls and romance and dancing. I wanted to see the usual war movie combat scenes. It turned out to be the most realistic war movie I ever saw before actually going to war myself. It was based on a book by James Michener. Here is what Wikipedia said about it:
Michener was called to active duty during World War II in the United States Navy. He traveled throughout the South Pacific Ocean on various missions that were assigned to him because his base commanders thought he was the son of Admiral Marc Mitscher. His travels became the setting for his breakout work Tales of the South Pacific.
In other words, there is a reason South Pacific was realistic. It was written by a World War II Pacific theater sailor.
Then there is the amount of the “cut.” All it is is a lowering of the inflation adjustment below the actual CPI rate for the year. Here is how The Weekly Standard described it:
According to House Budget Committee staff, a man who enlisted at age 18 and retired at 38 as a Sergeant First Class in the Army would see approximately a 6 percent overall reduction in lifetime retirement pay because of the COLA reduction--that is, he would receive about $1.626 million in lifetime retirement pay instead of $1.734 million.
Earning $108,000 less in retirement pay over a lifetime certainly isn't chump change, but Ryan points out that the budget deal achieves the same amount of savings over ten years from federal civilian employees' pensions ($6 billion) by requiring new employees to make higher contributions. "This is still far more generous than civilian retirees who receive absolutely no COLA before the age of 62," Ryan said. "We still kept the military retiree in a far better position than the civilian because we think that's the way it ought to be."
So a sergeant—maybe in finance corps—is going to get $1.626 million from age 38 on instead of $1.734 million, both of which numbers are far greater than he would have gotten in any comparable civilian work between age 18 and 38. Seriously!? We’re supposed to think that is the crime of the century!?
And don’t get me started on the fact that some of these retirees retired due to wounds. Read my article on “Wounded Warriors” at http://www.johntreed.com/woundedwarriors.html.
Let me mention two famous “wounded warriors.”
John McCain got shot down over North Vietnam. Does that make him a saint and hero? He himself said he heard a tone in his headset meaning an enemy radar guiding a SAM at him had locked on to him. He was supposed to take immediate evasive action. He decided not to. Too cool. The Sam hit his jet forcing him to eject. So far, I hope you realize he is just a fuck-up—“rebel without a cause” is how he described himself.
But wait, there’s more. When you eject you must get your elbows in real tight. Same is true of pulling the ripcord on your reserve parachute which I almost did twice when I was a paratrooper. Apparently McCain also didn’t bother with that training either because both his shoulders were broken by the ejection done while not first getting into proper position. A double fuck-up. So now he’s wounded. By the enemy? No, by his own habit of being a total jerk in the military about doing what he was supposed to do. To Megyn Kelly and her ilk, he’s is a “wounded warrior.” To those in the military, he’s a guy who probably should have been flunked out of pilot school or grounded years before. He was not because his father was a top admiral.
After he got on the ground he was bayoneted and beaten up in the Hanoi Hilton. Do we feel sorry for him? Yes. Does he get taxpayer funded disability for his resulting disabilities? Yep. Should we praise him to the heavens and give him medals for getting shot down, stabbed and beaten up? I don’t think so. Medals are for better than normal performance, not for sympathy about your suffering as a result of your ignoring your training so much that you got shot down and injured during your ejection. If McCain had evaded the SAM, he would not have gotten a medal for doing so. It was his job to evade SAMs. It’s not his damned plane you know. So he sure as hell should not have gotten a medal for getting shot down as a result of refusing to do what he was trained to do.
Did McCain deserve a medal for the way he conducted himself in the Hanoi Hilton. Ask his fellow prisoners. I wouldn’t know. Wasn’t there. My point is merely being wounded does not necessarily mean the person in question is a saint. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, it just means he screwed up.
Another famous wounded warrior is Max Cleland. He lost an arm and leg in Vietnam. He later was head of the VA then a U.S. Senator.
I recently read that he got those wounds “fighting” in Vietnam. Nope. He had the same job as me: battalion commo officer. He was at Khe Sanh for the siege of that base by the enemy. Hell of a fight. Tip of the hat to him. But he was not wounded there.
He was wounded getting off a helicopter at a safe landing zone where he was scouting a hill top to see if it would suitable as a place to locate radios for the battalion communications. A recent arrival enlisted man was with him. That new guy decided to loosen the pins on his grenades so he could Rambo at the enemy faster should the need arise. But one fell off his web gear as the chopper landed and the pin came out and the “spoon” popped off. That starts the fuse inside the grenade burning. Cleland saw the grenade, did not realize the pin was out and that it was cooking, and squatted down to pick it up and hand it back to the kid. It blew up.
That is how Cleland got his “wounds,” not fighting. This is one of those purple hearts I said in my wounded warriors article should have an HSU device attached meaning “he screwed up,” as opposed to McCain’s which should have an ISU device meaning “I screwed up.” There are a hell of a lot of Purple Heart veterans who got their Purple Heart not from wounds inflicted by the enemy while they were doing their job as trained, but they are injuries resulting from friendly fire, stupidity of your buddies, or stupidity of yourself. So let’s remember that before we shed too many tears for “Wounded Warriors” who may get a 1.4% COLA in their pension check rather than a 2.4% COLA.
Military lifers, especially the non-infantry types, are running a bit of a con on the American people. If you think true infantry combat vets deserve better, that’s another issue.
But the issue here is whether it is the crime of the century for those military personnel who stayed in for 20 or more years—lifers who embraced the organization that the other 20 million of us could not stand—to have a slight 6% reduction in their grossly overgenerous approximately $2 million lifetime pension before they turn 62. The truth is military lifers are no better than their civilian peers and arguably worse in many ways like waste, not getting the job done (winning wars), mistreating women, mistreating POWs.
The test of how much lifers should get is their quit rate after about 8 years of service. It is near zero because the pay and benefits are so extremely generous compared to what they would get for comparable civilian work. When the quit rate moves above 20%, normal in the civilian world, for military personnel with over 8 years of service, then we need to think about improving the package. Until then, give me a break!
Megyn Kelly and the other non-vet, high-dudgeon protectors of the saintly military retirees would have you believe we combat vets spent all day every day fixing bayonets and dodging income mortar rounds. Real war, as has been said, is months of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. And maybe for most, the moments, like enemy rocket attacks, were well below sheer terror level.
Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military