From the Military Times.
A worsening morale crisis
For many of the war-weary troops who deployed to combat zones over and over again for 13 years, the end of an era of war in Iraq and Afghanistan is good news.
But for Marine Sgt. Zack Cantu and other service members, it’s a total morale killer. For many of them, particularly the young grunts and others in combat arms specialties, it’s the realization that they may never go into battle for their country and their comrades.
“Most people in [the Marine Corps] are in because of the wars,” said the 25-year-old Cantu, a former infantryman at Camp Pendleton, California. Cantu has retrained as a telephone system and computer repairer, a specialty more likely to survive as the service downsizes.
“Now, everyone’s coming to the realization, ‘It’s probably not going to happen for me,'” he said.
The wars against America’s enemies gave troops like Cantu a noble purpose. Their training had focus, their sacrifices were appreciated by a largely grateful nation.
……Today, however, that gratitude seems to be dwindling. The services have weathered several years of deep cuts in funding and tens of thousands of troops have been unceremoniously given the boot. Many still in uniform and seeking to retire from the military fear the same fate, as those cuts are not yet complete.
A Military Times survey of 2,300 active-duty troops found morale indicators on the decline in nearly every aspect of military life. Troops report significantly lower overall job satisfaction, diminished respect for their superiors, and a declining interest in re-enlistment now compared to just five years ago.
Today’s service members say they feel underpaid, under-equipped and under-appreciated, the survey data show. After 13 years of war, the all-volunteer military is entering an era fraught with uncertainty and a growing sense that the force has been left adrift.
One trend to emerge from the annual Military Times survey is “that the mission mattered more to the military than to the civilian,” said Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University who studies the military. “For the civilian world, it might have been easier to psychologically move on and say, ‘Well, we are cutting our losses.’ But the military feels very differently. Those losses have names and faces attached to [them].”
……According to the Military Times survey, active-duty troops reported a stunning drop in how they rated their overall quality of life: Just 56 percent call it good or excellent, down from 91 percent in 2009. The survey, conducted in July and August, found that 73 percent of troops would recommend a military career to others, down from 85 percent in 2009. And troops reported a significant decline in their desire to re-enlist, with 63 percent citing an intention to do so, compared with 72 percent a few years ago.
Army Spc. David Potocnik is one of the troops who has seen morale in his unit take a hit, though he can’t really put a finger on why. A Black Hawk mechanic with 2nd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, at Fort Carson, Colorado, Potocnik said stress levels in his unit seem to be on the rise, despite a softening deployment tempo. Fellow Soldiers, he said, struggle to connect what feel like excessive training and additional duties in garrison with operational readiness and the overall mission.
“There are people who are really motivated, really high-speed … but they don’t seem to be a majority,” he said. “You’d think garrison would be more relaxed, but it’s frantic — for no reason.”
One of my last duty assignments before I retired was with the 101st Airborne. Talk about frantic. We were always operating at full speed.
Troops said more stress is created by long-term budget cuts imposed on the force through sequestration — the much-despised but apparently inexorable automatic spending reductions over a decade approved by Congress — and drawdown measures designed to shrink the force.
An Air Force captain working in security forces said the fiscal insecurity is taking its toll, causing more workplace exhaustion and frustration. And personal career uncertainty, he said, is driving many of his colleagues out of the service, perhaps earlier than they otherwise would have departed.
……A Navy aviation machinist’s mate first class based in El Centro, California, said operational budget cuts left him and fellow sailors cannibalizing working parts from other aircraft entering phased maintenance so they could repair higher-priority broken jets. Even uniforms are in short supply, he said, as the Navy embarks on what could be a decade of scrimping under sequestration.
“We are on the bare necessities and sometimes not even that. For example, I need new boots but they’ll ask me, ‘How long can you stretch that?'” he said.
Keeping a wary watch
……Predictably, retention also remains high, officials say, as most services look to natural attrition to meet mandated reductions in force size, and many troops fight to save their place on active duty, in spite of the quality-of-life and budget troubles.
Many of them hang on only because prospects for good civilian jobs have been dismal for many years. And often those who do land good jobs on the outside are those the military can least afford to lose.
Last year, retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno joined a small chorus of military experts who decry a perceived “brain drain.” Barno wrote for the website Foreign Policy that the services are losing their most talented junior officers and enlisted leaders to opportunities in the civilian sector because military leadership wasn’t providing them with the right opportunities or fighting hard enough to keep them.
It’s for no small reason that many young Army Captains and NCOs start receiving job offers from Corporate head-hunters. They are well aware of the fork in the road which every Officer and NCO reaches at a certain point in their career. For NCOs, it’s usually past the 10 year mark. At that that point, you’re considered a “career Soldier”. For Officers, it’s usually the rank of Major. The Army does not do well enough to retain good, young leaders. Those of us who stayed for the long haul had to think beyond the bureaucratic bullshit and focus on taking care of our troops and “Duty, Honor, Country”.
Morale is often lower among the lower ranks. One prior enlisted Marine officer, Capt. Micah Hudson, recalls being disgruntled as a young lance corporal in the late 1990s. But that changed as he moved up in rank.
“Lance Corporal Hudson could not wait to get out of the Marine Corps,” the captain said, referring to himself years ago. “He didn’t like sitting around and cleaning his rifle and having the gunnery sergeant yell at him all day. So that is part of it.”
……In the Army, some Soldiers say sinking morale stems from the Army’s reduced recruiting standards at the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially six and seven years ago, when the service granted waivers for people with criminal records and filled the ranks with not-so-highly-motivated Soldiers.
“What you have right now is just a retroactive action of what the Army did by letting in the influx of Soldiers when it was quantity, not quality,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jose Fernandez, a 17-year soldier at Fort Drum, New York.
Every branch has established waivers for criminal records.
Sometimes the military sets them on the right path, sometimes it won’t work regardless.
Money spigot tightens
Troops today are pocketing far smaller annual pay raises. The 2014 bump of just 1 percent was the smallest in the 41-year history of the all-volunteer force. That compares with 3.9 percent in 2009 — and 6.9 percent in 2002. Congress may well vote to authorize just another 1 percent in 2015. In the best-case scenario, that might go to 1.8 percent.
……And looking ahead, many military families see a future filled with uncertainty. They worry about the Defense Department’s new plan to cut housing allowance rates, which would amount to a direct pay cut for most troops who live off post. The newly minted 2015 defense authorization bill mandates that future allowance rates cover an average of only 99 percent of troops’ housing costs, not the traditional 100 percent. Service members would have to cover that 1 percent shortfall out of pocket.
Up until I earned the rank of Staff Sergeant, I could not get housing allowance, separate rations, or for that matter, permission to reside off post. As a Buck Sergeant I had to live in the barracks, and most of the time, I was assigned duties as a floor/barracks NCO in charge of the detail roster. Single Soldiers are treated differently than married ones.
……A staff sergeant who serves as a Chinook mechanic with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, said he’s living a minimal lifestyle.
“I don’t have to go without food or anything like that, but I don’t like to live paycheck to paycheck,” said the non commissioned officer, who asked that his name not be used. “Basically everything I do from one month to the next is all covered, but by the end of the month the paycheck is gone.”
The staff sergeant, who has deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan, is twice divorced and has four kids.
“You’re always waiting for the second week to hit so you can get more money, whether it’s providing something for the children, or right now I’m trying to buy a house,” he said. “It’s hard to put money in the bank and anticipate those [unexpected expenses] when there are already bills. There’s nothing left at the end of the day for savings. It’s all going somewhere.”
The staff sergeant said he sometimes has to use installment loans to make ends meet.
Back in the day, if you were an E-5 and below, you had to submit a request to your Company Commander to get married. The Commander would assess your situation based on your maturity and financial ability. There are times when I think we should go back to that. The military has never been a stable economic environment for families. The primary duty of service members is to maintain a high level of training, dedication, and combat readiness; not a preoccupation with spousal needs and day care.
Getting medical treatment is a tricky proposition.
Army Spc. Zach Stafford has a family history of cancer. So when the 28-year-old infantryman first noticed a painful tumor growing in one of testicles in August 2013, he wanted to see a doctor immediately.
No way — that wasn’t possible, in spite of the medical urgency. Why not? Simply because he was not at his home duty station; rather, he was at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in the field on a monthlong training exercise.
“They just didn’t want to deal with me down there because I wasn’t stationed there,” Stafford recalled in a recent interview. “And my unit didn’t want to send me back. … I was like ‘That’s great, I’ll be in pain the entire month.’ “
……After getting back home to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in September, Stafford waited about a month to see a doctor, who promptly slotted him for surgery a few weeks later in October.
The good news: the tumor was benign.
The bad news: When they sewed him back together, they damaged a nerve bundle in his groin, he said.
Enduring “excruciating” shooting pains that sometimes made walking tough, Stafford spent about eight months trying to get the military health system to fix its screwup.
He tried calling for an appointment to see a doctor at Womack Army Medical Center, but that proved all but useless, he said.
“They don’t always answer the phone. It was easier to just to go up there and wait and hope there’s not a long line of people waiting to schedule an appointment.”
He eventually got one, but his unit’s training demands forced him to reschedule several times.
I can’t speak for the other branches, but from my Army experience, sick call is viewed as shamming. The Chain of Command does not like Soldiers spending time at the clinic, no matter how serious the ailment. Got a bad case of the flu or a broken bone? Here’s a Tylenol. Suck it up, sissy. Got walking pneumonia? You can still walk, right back to duty. That never changed during my entire service.
I have a newsflash for the Military Times. My first hitch was 1976-1979. It was just 3 years after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam and the morale of the NCO Corps in particular, was at an all time low. The military was looked upon with disdain by civilians who were either anti-war miscreants or wanted to forget all about Vietnam and those who served there. The residual effects did a lot of damage to the psyche of the military across the board.
From an essay I wrote when I retired:
My first assignment was being stationed in Germany as part of the Fulda Gap defense against a Soviet army that outnumbered us 3 to 1. At that time I was in the 1st Armored Division in the Signal Corps. In the 1970’s the Army- in fact all of the military-was in a state of decline. Morale was at an all-time low. The service was rife with racial problems and sexual harassment. The Non-Commissioned Officer Corps had been eviscerated beyond recognition, and too much responsibility was being given to shave-tail Lieutenants. The military as a whole had lost a lot of discipline thanks to the politicians who fought Vietnam from their desks instead of letting the warrior fight it on the battlefield. When you send your warriors to fight, you let them do it the right way and let them finish the job.
The obstacles for me were things like sexism and yes, racism. If you think racism is a one-way street, think again. Most of the epithets directed toward me during my first tour of duty were from black male Soldiers. The sexism usually involved hostility in the form of resentment when a female proved she could do the same job with just as much ability and dedication. Back then, “Equal Opportunity” meant being treated badly by all males regardless of ethnicity. It was a rite of passage to which females were subject.
I was elated when Ronald Reagan was elected President. The transformation he helped bring to the military was dramatic and long overdue. Pay was substantially increased for the first time in decades. He openly praised the military and was unashamed in his patriotism and love for this country. I can say unequivocally that President Reagan not only helped America believe in itself again, but brought pride in the military back into fashion.
The one thing missing from the report is the abject hatred Obama harbors for the military and the effect it has on service members. The feelings are mutual. There’s nothing that good strong leadership can’t fix. When Obama finally leaves office the military will no longer have to endure this incompetent, military loathing, kowtowing, muzzie-collaborating Dhimmi assclown.
Perhaps we’ll have a real president and Commander-in-Chief who will be more concerned with the condition of the country and the military, rather than ‘gay rights’, drag shows, ‘black’ hairstyles, and his grandiose sense of entitlement.