Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Radical overhaul of military retirement eyed

No one gets rich in the military. In an all-volunteer force, the point is to serve your country. Of course military troops have to eat and have a roof over their heads so they get paid. Before we start looking to cut retirements (50 percent of the highest base pay received while on active duty), it might be a little illuminating to understand how little troops are paid in the first place.

Since the SEALs have been making the news, let's at the pay of an E-6, Petty Officer 1st Class (PO1). He had to have been in the Navy for at least three years in order to tryout for BUDs (25 weeks), this in addition to recruit training (8 weeks) and skills training (2-4 months). Some sailors such as medics will receive advance training of another 3-6 months depending on the school.

The physical requirements to be a SEAL are well documented. Consider this though, what would an Olympic caliber athlete, sharpshooter and parachutist earn? Using the 2011 pay charts and our example of a PO1, base pay would be $3,192. If he is married he gets another $888. He gets $250 extra for being on jump status plus $340 for dive status. A petty office 1st class SEAL then receives, for all of the training and skills, around $56,000 a year.

Compare the PO1 salary with Ryan Mundy who was a safety with the 2009-2010 Pittsburgh Steelers. He was one of the lowest paid Steelers an received $310,00 per year. A professional athlete, playing a game in which he certainly could be hurt but is not facing enemy fire is paid nearly six times what an elite Navy SEAL is paid.

Unlike most professional athletes, SEALs are expected to have a 20 year career (it takes almost 10 years before a regular SEAL is ready for SEAL TEAM Six). How many professional athletes have a career that spans that long?

My example focused on a Navy SEAL that qualifies for the maximum in incentive pay. You basic troop at the same rank does not get jump or dive pay. Their annual salary is around $48,000 for defending their country.

Patriotism can overcome only so many injuries and separations from family and friends. Earning that military retirement (a guarantee for the military member and 55% for their spouse in the event of the retiree's death) is the one incentive that keeps troops training and re-enlisting when in other careers people would have left to write their memoirs.

The government and Pentagon needs to leave the retirement alone, otherwise they can forget about retaining troops past their first or second enlistment. If they go to a 401K type system, the government will still end up spending money in increasingly larger signing bonuses and other incentives to keep troops in. Come on Leon, you can do better than this.

CBS News

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