WASHINGTON (March 2, 2015) – The senior enlisted advisers from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force were on Capitol Hill, Feb. 25, to testify on quality of life concerns in the services.
The possible return of sequestration in fiscal year 2016 colored much of the discussion.
Uncertainty over possible deterioration of healthcare benefits, compensation and family programs as well as job security were uniform among the four top enlisted leaders speaking before the House Appropriations Committee, subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies.
Less than a month in his position now, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey said caring for Soldiers, their Families and Army civilians, “builds trust, and trust is predictability … the unwritten contract between the American people, her leaders and the people of our Army.
“Today, we are back in Iraq facing a new enemy,” he said. “But, perhaps the greatest enemy to the contract I’ve mentioned and to our future is fiscal uncertainty … I’m very conscious that every fiscal decision we make together has the potential to impact a Soldier’s trust in us as leaders … not only does this affect our readiness today, it affects the all-volunteer Army of tomorrow.”
Dailey said that without predictable and adequate resources, the Army simply cannot plan and conduct required training or maintain diverse, high-quality Soldier and Family support programs.
“Furthermore, I see a return to sequestration-level funding as the tipping point between our ability to maintain our responsiveness and our ability to maintain trust with our people,” he said, noting that his biggest fear was losing more Soldiers.
“We’re managing that through the use of accessions, retention and quality control programs,” Dailey said. “Unfortunately, if we continue to see fiscal restraints and we return to sequestration levels of funding, good Soldiers will be asked to go home.”
By the end of 2015, the active Army expects to be down to 490,000 Soldiers. Lt. Gen. Karen E. Dyson, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for financial management and comptroller, said additional sequestration in fiscal year 2016 could mean another 15,000 Soldiers cut from the active force.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael D. Stevens, now in his third year as the senior enlisted advisor for the Navy, represents the interests of more than 320,000 active and Reserve Sailors.
Stevens said during the last year, while meeting with Sailors and their families around the Navy, he has found an “overall satisfactory quality of life.” But like Dailey, “ongoing discussions regarding possible changes to future pay and compensation has created an era of uncertainty.”
Stevens said with regard to pay and compensation, a major concern to the Navy was the future of healthcare.
“Healthcare is a quality of life issue that consistently resurfaces during my fleet interaction – it is extremely important to our Sailors and our families and is very influential in recruiting and retention decisions,” Stevens said.
Stevens also addressed the condition of single-Sailor barracks saying that due to critical priorities in war-fighting requirements, the Navy had taken risks with the infrastructure of its barracks.
“This risk has resulted in the overall condition of our barracks falling to approximately 50 percent adequacy,” Stevens said. “Should sequestration resurface, I’m concerned the condition of our barracks will decline even further. With your support, it is my hope that we can prioritize funding to improve living conditions for our Sailors.”
Stevens also addressed resiliency and family support programs such as the fleet and family support centers, child and youth programs and family readiness groups which he said, “are fundamental to our Sailors’ overall state of wellness and readiness.”
“Healthcare, barracks and family support programs are areas that must be valued and protected for force readiness, for recruitment and retention and quality of life,” Stevens said.
During his first Capitol Hill hearing, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald L. Green – who just assumed his position Feb. 20 – told the committee that, “no matter what, we must make A’s on the battlefield. Combat readiness is comprised of unit, personal and family readiness … with the current fiscal climate, we may have to take many risks in many areas.”
Green said just within the past year, the Marine Corps had to take significant financial cuts in primary areas while protecting programs such as behavioral health and sexual assault prevention and response.
“Funding levels for the Marine Corps below the presidential budget may force a choice between quality of life and quality of work,” Green said. “We may be forced to choose between the most ready Marines or morale and family support services such as childcare and family readiness programs … having to choose between quality of life at home and readiness for combat abroad is not a choice we should have to make.”
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody started his testimony by telling the committee that the active Air Force, its civilians, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve – at 670,000 personnel – is the smallest it has ever been since the service was created in 1947.
“This is historic for us, and it is exacerbated by the fact that we are more globally engaged today — continuing to operate in the longest sustained time in the history of our country,” Cody said. “On top of all this, we do this with an all-volunteer force, a force that continues to experience uncertainty in terms of capability, compensation and the meaning of service.”
Cody said Airmen are concerned like Soldiers, Sailors and Marines with reductions which might take place and extend to their housing allowances, healthcare and ability to keep serving.
“When I came in 30-plus years ago, if you were a good Airman and you worked hard, you had an opportunity to serve 20 years,” Cody said. “Airmen cannot say the same thing today and we have had to let plenty of good Airmen go before their desired time, so those will be the top concerns that I think they face: the uncertainty of the future and their ability to serve.”