Winter brings blizzards and budgets 

2/18/2010 12:00 AM 


                                                                                                February 18, 2010

      Well, folks, your association has survived back-to-back blizzards that dropped several feet of snow in the Nation’s Capitol, only to be faced with analyzing a blizzard of defense dollars in the newly-released federal budget.

      President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget blueprint for fiscal year 2011 includes an overall defense request of $549 billion in its base budget plus $159 for overseas operations, primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of the $549 billion, the Army is requesting $143.4 billion and an additional $102.2 billion for overseas contingency operations. 

      With money like that you might think everything an Army could possibly want or need would be funded, but let’s take some of those numbers apart. 

      The base budget funds an active Army end strength of 547,400, while the overseas contingency operations request includes money to pay for a temporary increase of 22,000 active-duty soldiers until 2011.  That adds up to 569,400 active duty soldiers.  The base budget has the Army National Guard at 358,200 and the Army Reserve at 205,000. 

      AUSA, however, has long said that the active duty component should have at least 700,000 soldiers and the increase should be fully funded in the base budget.  We believe the Army National Guard needs 371,000 and that the Army Reserve should be manned at 215,000. 

      These numbers, in our opinion, would allow us to reach the goal of dwell time at home of between two and three years for every one deployed for active component troops and five years for every one deployed for Reserve Component troops.  Our troops need time to train and be with their families.  We cannot continue to send the same troops into theater over and over without a break.

      The larger number of troops would also fill the brigade combat teams, and allow the schools and garrisons of the Generating Force to be fully manned.

      Everyone is concerned about health care.  I was surprised and very pleased to see that once again the President’s budget fully funded the Military Health System without an increase in TRICARE fees and co-pays.  However, that’s only the first step in the fight. 

      In a recent hearing, both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed the rising costs of health care.  Gates said that he wants to work with Congress on costs because they’re “only going to keep going up.”  That means another exchange between the Pentagon and Congress on whether to increase TRICARE fees and co-pays. 

      We know it is Congress that we must influence.  We are grateful that they continue to rebuff these politically unpopular initiatives, and we will work with them to ensure there are no increases again this year. 

      The budget also requested a 1.4 percent increase in military and civilian pay and a 4.2 percent in Basic Allowance for Housing and the Basic Allowance for Subsistence.  Military family support programs would see an increase of $500 million, including about $440 million to build and repair DoD schools.

      Ok, there is a pay increase, and that’s good, but I’m not so happy about the size of it.  We still need to close the pay gap of between 2.5 and 3 percent.  Soldiers who are willing to give their lives for their country should not be paid less than their civilian counterparts – period – end of discussion.

      The President asked for $1.1 billion for treatment, care and research of Traumatic Brain Injury and psychological health issues.  This issue is about making troops mentally and physically sound after experiences that civilians for the most part cannot even imagine.  It goes back to having enough troops for the mission and then allowing them time to sufficiently heal, both mentally and physically, between deployments.  AUSA will strongly support these efforts again this year.   

      So during this budget season, AUSA will monitor the process and speak out when we believe that our members’ interests and our Army’s interests are not being served and will offer our support when needed.

      Before I close, I want to pay tribute to Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who passed away earlier this month.  Rep. Murtha was chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and was responsible for funding our national defense.  In 1974 he became the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress.  During the next 36 years, he always made sure that the troops were not forgotten in the heated national security debates that often focused more on hardware than the people that would have to use it.  He liked to say that he got the best information from his visits to troops on station and in hospitals, and he took many trips to war zones over the years to find out for himself what worked and what did not.

      He almost always managed to fund pay raises that were bigger than the administration proposed and worked hard to get better equipment to the "ground pounders" who needed it.  He also got Congress to fund the $500 a month allowance for service members who were retained on active duty after the end of their enlistment, and gave the administration the extra push it needed to begin increasing time between deployments.

      On behalf of AUSA, I offer condolences to Rep. Murtha's family and our thanks to a veteran who always had our Soldiers' backs!