Downsizing and Weakening the U.S. Military (updated)

Unless you follow writers such as Bill Gertz and others, you probably don’t have much of a feel for just how extensive the downsizing of the U.S. military, especially the Air Force, has been over the past twelve years. Yes, that includes the entire Bush II administration. It’s not just the personnel numbers involved, it’s also the reduction/delay/cancellation of procurement contracts, closing of bases and shipyards, awarding contracts to overseas suppliers rather than domestic manufacturers, et cetera, so on and so forth.

Also part of the scheme are practices such as the directed persecution of American combatants, as is exemplified by the prosecution of the Marines involved in the Haditha killings (see update) and the Lt. Pantano witch hunt. When all was said and done, charges against the Lieutenant were dropped after the long-sought physical evidence was finally unearthed and examined. But there’s no need to go to that much trouble to kill esprit de corps and combat effectiveness. Just RIF some officers close to the 20-year mark and screw them out of retirement and medical benefits. That’s how you fill officer ranks in the future.

From the Wall Street Journal

DECEMBER 28, 2011
The Air Force Grounds Its Officers
by Joshua Flynn-Brown and Kyndra Miller Rotunda

Forced terminations with no pensions or benefits is no way to reward airmen after years of faithful service.

During the holiday season, Americans especially remember our servicemen and women deployed to faraway lands, serving in harm’s way. We send packages abroad, light candles in their honor, and donate toys for military tots. However, what really matters is how we treat them when they come home. Sadly, we don’t always treat them well.

A case in point: This holiday season, the Air Force has “separated” (that is, fired) 157 officers on the eve of their retirement, including pilots flying dangerous missions, to avoid paying their pensions. According to Department of Defense Instructions, those within six years of their 20-year retirement (with no disciplinary blemishes on their record) have the option to remain in service. Nevertheless, the Air Force is committing terminations of airmen a few years away from retirement en masse, citing budget constraints.

While budget constraints affect the entire Department of Defense, the other services have found other ways to pinch pennies. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley stands alone on this one. We represent many of these airmen, all of them with stellar records.

Maj. Kale Mosley is one example. He is an Air Force Academy graduate and a pilot who has flown more than 250 combat missions. He deployed to Libya this summer with 30 hours notice. When he returned, the military immediately sent him to Iraq. Just as he was boarding the plane for Iraq, the Air Force gave him his walking papers, effective Nov. 30. Maj. Mosley will not receive a pension or long-term health-care benefits for his family. He is the father of a toddler and a newborn.

In a speech before Congress urging it to pass his American Jobs Act, President Obama spoke of tax credits for companies to hire America’s veterans, saying, “We ask these men and women to leave their careers, leave their families, risk their lives to fight for our country. The last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home.”

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently testified before Congress about potential changes to the Military Retirement System. He said: “We’ve made a promise to people who are on duty that we’re going to provide a certain level of retirement. . . . These people have been deployed time and time again. They’ve put their lives on the line on the battlefield. And we’re not going to pull the rug out from under them. We’re going to stand by the promise that was made for them.”

But the Air Force is pulling the rug out from under these airmen.

In fairness, the blame for this unjust situation partially rests with Congress. In the 1990s, when the military was drawing down, Congress authorized an early retirement program that allowed service members to retire with a prorated pension and benefits. But it allowed the law to expire in 2001.

Congress has proposed reinstating a similar early-retirement program within the National Defense Authorization Act, and the authorization bill is on Mr. Obama’s desk. But even if the president signs the bill, it will do nothing to resolve the problem of the 157 officers who were terminated on Nov. 30.

The Air Force should reinstate the 157 airmen so that they can finish their military careers. Or Congress should simply enact a law to cover these 157 airmen.

America’s heroes have our backs. Who has theirs?

— Mr. Flynn-Brown is a clinical fellow in the Chapman University AMVETS Legal Clinic. Ms. Rotunda is a professor at Chapman and executive director of the university’s Military Law Institute, which represents, pro bono, several of the 157 terminated airmen.

Happy New Year, fellas.

As the River Rats are fond of saying, “Check Six!

Update: See Michelle Malkin’s piece on SSgt Frank D. Wuterich, the last Haditha Marine to go to trial.

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