Archive for the 'History' Category

Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 30 Aug 2015 for Midrats Episode 295: “NATO Goes Back to Fundamentals” With Jorge Benitez:

From the Balitic to the Black Sea, the last year has seen the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) return to its roots – the defense of Europe from Russian aggression.

The names and players have changes significantly since a quarter century ago – but in many ways things look very familar.

To discuss NATO’s challenge in the East in the second decade of the 21st Century for the full hour will be Dr. Jorge Benitez.

Jorge is the Director of NATOSource and a Senior Fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

He specializes in NATO, European politics, and US national security. and previously served as Assistant for Alliance Issues to the Director of NATO Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He has also served as a specialist in international security for the Department of State and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis.

Dr. Benitez received his BA from the University of Florida, his MPP from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and his PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Join us live if you can, or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also find the show later at our iTune page here.



As part of Women in Writing Week, we recognize one of the first female role models in the Navy: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Here she is on The David Letterman Show, at age 80:



Letters transcend generations. Some of my family’s most sentimental possessions are my grandfather’s letters home during World War II while he was stationed in India. Growing up, I’d often heard the story of how he began writing to a woman his Aunt worked with, and after years of exchanging letters, he proposed to her the first time he met her as she picked him up from the airport upon his arrival in the States (that woman later became my grandmother).

But despite the fact that one of my cousins transcribed Grandpa’s letters to his own mother a few years back, I never got the chance to read them before I left on my own deployment. It wasn’t until I returned home that I read through them in their entirety, and was struck by the similarity between the multitude he had penned home, and my own numerous emails home to friends and family. His letters contain sections that have been cut out, and apparently his mother once received a scrawled note, “Ma’am, your son is fine…he just talks too much!” Clearly, he didn’t have a mandatory NKO OPSEC course…

Of course, Grandpa didn’t write using “hashtags” or about “missing WiFi” or even of women in the service. But he wrote of flying, the heat, his concern regarding things at home, silly things he and his friends did to pass the often boring times that happen on deployment and how much he missed his family. And so did I. What follows is a short compilation of letters written by my Grandfather, along with a few emails I sent to families and friends along similar topic lines.

meehan postBeginning Deployment

17 July 1943

Dear Mom,

I hope, by this time, you will have my first letter. I am finally at what appears to be my base – doing what I expected and trained for, although the camp isn’t exactly as I had hoped it would be.

It isn’t bad though and the stories are as interesting as amazing to the gullible – pythons, cobras and stampeding elephants. I haven’t seen any in the raw yet, except, on the way thru, in a city street, when a native lad would run up to us and throw a bag down at our feet whereupon an indifferent and defanged cobra would coil up and stare at us icily- the boy would want 4 annos (8c)…

…At [section cut from page] the streets were narrow, dusty and dirty, but the surrounding parks and residential districts were nice. The Taj Mahal was beautiful at night and looked just like it does in pictures. Send all your mail – air mail – as it will probably take from 15 days to a month anyway – you might get some of this stationary – air mail. I want to know about everybody and hope you have written – My regard to anybody you feel like giving them to – hope you are all well.

Love, Jimmie

16 April 2014

Important people of my life,

Hello to all of you! I am currently deployed and we are 2 months into what is sure to be an awesome nine-month deployment…yes, I’m saying that without a hint of sarcasm…none whatsoever. While I may not quite be bursting with enthusiasm for the coming months, I will say that so far, it has certainly been an adventure! After crossing the Atlantic, we ended up having a bit of an extended stay in the Med due to the current events in Ukraine. While our port visits to Athens, Greece and Antalya, Turkey were unaffected (you could probably hear the sigh of relief from all 5,000 people on the ship from across the Atlantic), the flight operations in the area were decidedly more interesting. Despite being on high alert for a few tense days, we managed to find some humor in the situation, as sailors (and especially aviators!), are wont to do. Chat rooms became the basis of many a laugh, as evidenced by the “Is love a Crimea? No, but you shouldn’t Russian to it” – subject line of one such room.

Dork humor aside, there is plenty of room for laughs on the boat. Sidenote: it’s “the boat” for aviators, and SWO’s (surface warfare officers) refer to the carrier and all naval vessels as “ships.” Aviators have a long history of being impertinent towards SWOs…and we take gleeful pride in maintaining this relationship. A recent email was forwarded to the entire airwing with the choice sentence “Reaction Officer complained that the airwing LT was not contrite when confronted. It strikes me that Naval Aviation’s characteristic irreverence and slight rebellious streak still generates surprised consternation and SWO-ish indignation.”…

…Well, this email has been in the works for about 5 weeks…hopefully the next one won’t be so delayed! I would love to tell you all more about the boat, the groups of people, flying, cat shots, call-signs and the awesome group of people I work with every day! I hope you all are doing well-Happy Easter to you and your families!

HUGS, Mere

27 October 1943

I was glad to get your letter and snapshots – they’re great. To answer some of your questions the 301st has just moved into its own area – which means that we now have our own mess hall – good food, comfortable bunkers – they are sprayed daily and of course we have our own mosquito net – shower rooms and day room.

I’m still flying a lot, but am now in charge of special services in the squadron – which means that on days off I’m in the library, day room, or working on the volleyball court etc. We are laying out a baseball field, football field and horseshoe pits and planning on a boxing ring. The red-cross has donated full equipment for all this – even checkers, chess, and playing cards for the day room. Now if we could get some blondes!

I’ll write tomorrow

Love, Jimmie



Women in Writing Week: From 18 October 2013, part of the stellar series “A History of the Navy in 100 Objects” by LTJG Chris O’Keefe.

Women in the military today is the norm, but this was not always the case. Today’s object, a non-descript woman’s naval officer uniform, helps tell the story of the thousands of women who blazed the trail for the women serving today. This podcast is the first of several episodes that will address the broader narrative of women in the Navy. And since these objects all are located at the Academy, today’s episode focuses on the first women to enter the Academy in 1976. This is the first of a two part episode. The second half is an interview with Sharon Disher, member of the first class of women at the Academy and author of the book First Class.



Women’s Equality Day is a commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting universal women’s suffrage on this day 95 years ago.

Today is also the start of “Women in Writing” Week at the Blog. Many of the authors that follow, from now until September 2nd, are either first-time writers, new to the blogging world, or writing on issues they are passionate about.

The idea to have this week came after I culled through all of the blog posts here one day, to get a sense of where we were, where we are, and where we’re going. What Mary Ripley began inauspiciously nearly 7 years ago has blossomed into an online forum that continues the proud traditions of the Naval Institute.

Yet as I read post after post, one thing was missing: the voice of female authors. In more than 500 posts, fewer than 10 were written by active duty or reserve female officers, and none were written by enlisted females. According to CDR Salamander recently, perhaps this is because “they do not feel that their point of view…would be ‘politically acceptable,’ and from their perspective, the cost/benefit ratio just [does] not make it worth it.”

If this is so, let us make this place one where all can come and constructively contribute without retribution. And let us stand up for one another when that retribution attempts to rear its ugly head. As the same CDR wrote at USNI Blog’s humble beginning, “Creative friction is good. A questioning mindset is good. Diversity of thought is good….and a little moxie doesn’t hurt.”

The timing of this “Week” is fortuitous, too, as major “firsts” throughout the military have brought the issue of patriotic women serving their country to the forefront. The first enlisted women submariners are beginning their training, and will report to their boats next year. And of course, the first two women graduated from the Army’s prestigious Ranger School last week.

But as we move past these firsts, we must ask ourselves an important question: “When is ‘celebrating’ women not all that good for women?”

In an article published last week at the Washington Post, Gina Glanz remarks that, “Something tagged exclusively for or about women is all too often a revenue generating strategy alongside a way to deflect criticism about the lack of attention to women and an opportunity for the powers-that-be to say, ‘look what we do for women.’ Unfortunately, often, what they ‘do’ is not much.”

Glanz goes on to recommend that when women are asked to be singled out—or “siloed”—for being women, they should just say no.

And that was a strong sentiment as we stumped for articles for this week. Women’s issues are Navy issues; pay, benefits, uniforms, deployment schedules, meeting—and defining—standards, doing more with less – these are issues that we all grapple with. Knee-jerk categorization of some issues as “female” and some as “male” cheapens the contributions of all Sailors and Marines.

What will follow during this week is writing by both women and men on daily life in the Navy, role models and mentors, uniform policy, retention and leadership, command, innovation, and hope for the future. These are not male issues nor are they female issues. They are Navy issues.

Will this be USNI Blog’s only “Women in Writing” Week? Should it be? Perhaps.

Someone once spoke of a dream, where we consider all human beings equally based on the content of their hearts. Today, we must similarly strive to be a service where all who are willing are considered equally on the content of their performance and their character. This space exists for us to write about it, and to come together as both “writers” and “doers.”

CDR Salamander asks, “Do we want writers, or only writing that is within certain defined boundaries?” The legacy of the Naval Institute has been constructive writing and debate on any topic. Let the existence of this week—anathema to some—be a signal that we welcome all voices and we will, as a community, stand up for all those willing to speak. We welcome all women and men to contribute equally—and often!—to the Naval Institute Blog.



SOHjpgWe all know the old phrase, “nations don’t have friends or enemies…nations only have interests.” As a rather young and insular nation, we can often forget about the interests and history of other nations, especially ones that don’t show up on a regular basis in the news cycle.

There are some nations who are geographically exceptionally important, but politically stable inside the last couple of decades. Stability, like civilization in general, is never a given and can fall apart in the blink of an eye to either internal or external conflict. What do you do then?

When reading up on some of the possible second and third order effects of Iran’s recent diplomatic victory over the West, I came across a great article from Amir Taheri on Oman. Anyone involved in maritime or national security over the last two decades do not need a refresher on how important that nation has been to us.

Taheri’s article brings to light some important points to consider because, if a stable Oman and reliable access to her facilities are one of your Planning Assumptions, then I sure hope you have a Branch Plan.

Let’s set the stage.

Determined to press its claim as “the regional superpower”, the Islamic Republic has decided to develop its maritime units into a full-fledged blue-water navy.
Three events have spurred the Iranian program for projection of power. The first is US President Barack Obama’s declared intention to drawdown and eventually conclude American military presence in the Middle East. If Obama’s policies are continued by his successor, the US would leave a huge gap to be filled in the region. The Islamic Republic hopes to fill it.

The second event was the “deal” made with the so-called P5+1 group over Iran’s nuclear project. If implemented, the deal would unfreeze Iranian financial assets estimated at between 120 billion US dollars and 150 billion US dollars, providing enough resources for a massive upgrading of the navy. The new Iranian budget has, in fact, raised defense expenditure by almost 23 percent, part of it devoted to the projection of naval power.

Another foreign power signals withdraw, so what are the small nations left behind to do as their foreign friends leave? They need to come to terms with their powerful neighbors. It is only natural that they go back to habits of the past and historical connections. Regression to the mean, if you will.

The third event was the speedy signing by Oman, with which Iran had its longest maritime border, over 248 miles (400 kilometers), of a treaty demarcating the limits of the two neighbors’ territorial waters. Prepared by the Iranian Defense Ministry, the treaty was sent to the foreign ministry in Tehran last spring with a demand that it be negotiated and finalized with Oman over a three-year period. As it turned out, however, the Omanis did not need such lengthy negotiations and quickly ratified the treaty which was signed by Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id Al Sa’id in July.

How does this change things from a maritime security point of view?

… Iranian media have reported that the new treaty would systematize a series of arrangements that Iran had made with Oman in the early 1970s. At that time the Shah had sent an expeditionary force to crush a Communist rebellion backed by South Yemen in the Omani province of Dhofar.

For years, Iran has used the threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz in its game of chicken with adversaries. The strait is 54-kilomtere long body of water that connects the Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and thus the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Hormuz is, in fact, cut into two channels by the 110-kilometre long Iranian island of Qeshm.
… the part to the south of Qeshm, touching on the Omani enclave of Ras Mussandam that is of strategic importance because of massive international traffic including the passage of tankers carrying more than 30 percent of global oil trade.

Two islands are of strategic importance as far as commanding the southern part of the strait is concerned. To the north of the waterway is the Iranian island of Hangam, a satellite of Qeshm, which is already highly militarized. To the south is the Omani island of Beit Al-Ghanam.

“By having a presence in both islands, Iran would control the two halves of the gate,” says Hamid Zomorrodi, a former captain of the Iranian navy. “That island and the neighboring Ras Mussandam have been important in Iranian naval planning since the time of Nader Shah in the 18th century when Iran decided, for the first time, to build a navy in its southern waters.”

There you go. Is that connection made by Zomorrodi a stretch?

In the early 18th century, Iran returned to the region in a big way. Nader Shah bought four warships from the European powers and hired the British seafarer Captain Cook as naval adviser. His admiral, Latif Khan, launched a series of naval raids that ended with the capture of Bahrain, the crushing of pirate tribes, and a brief conquest of Muscat. However Nader Shah’s naval adventure didn’t last long. His assassination replunged Iran into civil war and chaos, deviating attention from tis southern waters. It took almost two centuries for Iran to return to its southern waters under Reza Shah who built a navy with help from Germany and Italy in the 1930s. In 1941, the British sunk the Shah’s navy when they, together with the Russians, invaded and occupied Iran in the name of the Allies fighting the German-led Axis.

In a sense, Oman is like an island because, with the exception of a link to a thinly inhabited fringe of southern Yemen, it is sealed off from the interior of the Arabian Peninsula by the uplands of the Batinah and the Rub Al-Khali, and surrounded by water on the remaining three sides. In geopolitical terms, Oman is a top prize for anyone who wishes to project naval power in the Indian Ocean.

It is not surprising that Oman features prominently in Iran’s long-term planning for naval projection of power. Omanis think they owe Iran a debt of gratitude for having helped them crush the Communist challenge launched from South Yemen in the 1970s.

In a gesture of friendship to the Sultan of Oman, in 1970s Iran rejected a demand by the sheikhs of Khassab and Diba, in the Mussandam Peninsula where the Shihuh and Kamzari tribes, speaking an Iranian language, once ruled, to secede from Oman and set up independent mini-states.

Oman has always tried to project a distinct political profile. In the 1971 celebration of the foundation of the Persian Empire, Sultan Qaboos was the only Arab head of state present.

There is more than just Oman in play if you run this scenario out.

Courting Oman is part of a broader policy of the Islamic Republic to Finlandize the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, by persuading and/or threatening them not to take sides in any conflict between Iran and tis regional or extra-regional rivals.

So far, Oman has managed to pursue a “zero problems” foreign policy. But how long that could last depends on how far Tehran wishes to push its regional ambitions.

A friendly Oman is a big asset for Iran’s national security let alone its regional ambitions. A hostile Oman could force Tehran strategists to think twice before they bite more than they can chew.

Wargame that. Throw in a successful Shia uprising in Bahrain and an ongoing one in eastern Saudi Arabia. Well. Interesting times.



Posted by CDRSalamander in History, Strategy | 8 Comments
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Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 16 August 2015 for Midrats Episode 293: Russia and the Nuclear Shadow: 2015’s Revivals with Tom Nichols:

They never really went away, but for almost 20 years the world had a holiday from an old challenge and a new one; Russia and the prospect of nuclear war.

Some thought, and more hoped that with the end of the Cold War, a newer world order would emerge that would enable an era of stability and peace. In a way, it did – but only in spots and for short periods of time.

While for the last 15 years most of the attention was focused on the expansion of radical Islam, two not unrelated events began to wax. From the ashes of the Soviet Union, fed by a charismatic leader and a resource extraction economy, Russian began to reassert itself in a manner consistent with the last 500 years of its history, and in parallel – the boogyman of the second half of the 20th Century began to grow as well; the proliferation and possible use nuclear weapons.

To discuss this and more for the full hour will be Dr. Tom Nichols,

Tom is a professor at the Naval War College and at the Harvard Extension School, as well as a Senior Associate of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York City and a Fellow of the International History Institute at Boston University. Previously he was a Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. Before coming to the War College, he taught international relations and Russian affairs for many years at Dartmouth College and Georgetown University. In Washington, he was personal staff for defense and security affairs in the United States Senate to the late Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania.

He received his PhD from Georgetown, an MA from Columbia University, and the Certificate of the Harriman Institute at Columbia.

He’s also a five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion. He played in the 1994 Tournament of Champions, is listed in the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame. He played his final match in the 2005 Ultimate Tournament of Champions.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also pick the show up for later listening at our iTunes page here.



MarinesWith the recent spate of media attention on the firing of LtCol Kate Germano and the separate physical standards that female Marines have been held to for years, I feel the need to clear up some misconceptions, particularly those that hold that female Marines prefer lower standards and that such standards in any way benefit the Marine Corps.

I have been a Marine for over 17 years. Prior to my commissioning, I was a midshipman for four years. During those 21+ years, I have never heard a single female Marine express satisfaction with any physical standard that was less than that required by the men she served with, nor have I heard a female Marine express a desire for separate and different training. On the contrary, the prevailing attitude among women has repeatedly held that lower, easier standards for women were stupid, made women seem weaker and less capable, and were in the end downright dangerous, and that integrated training is the only way to go.

Over the past month, stories about LtCol Kate Germano’s “agenda” have been circulated in the news (her agenda seems to be all about holding women to the same standards as the men, seeking gender-integrated training, and similar supposedly tough demands). While I cannot speak with authority about the specifics of an “abrasive” leadership style, I can certainly talk about her complaints regarding the separate—lower—standards applied to female Marines. In fact, I am beginning to feel like a broken record. And in conversations I have had over the past two weeks, it seems many women, both those currently serving and those who have left the military, feel the same way. See my past posts about the PFT and pullups for some past discussion.

So to make this perfectly clear, women by and large do not appreciate, deserve, or desire different physical standards to be a Marine, nor do they benefit from them. Female Marines do not clamor for lower standards, don’t seek simply to achieve the minimum of said lower standards, and rarely speak approvingly of such standards. Those of us serving today did not create the existing standards, and do not benefit from their existence. On the contrary, we repeatedly and vocally deplore the lower standards applied to women (70-second flexed arm hang? Red boxes on the O-Course?), and have described the implications of lower standards as restrictive, dangerous, and biased.

Lower, different physical standards for women are restrictive, because they teach women and men alike that women simply aren’t capable of tougher physical achievements. Higher standards may be tough to reach at first but they are reachable, and by holding expectations low we are just teaching that that’s all we can expect from women.

Lower, different standards are biased, because they separate Marines into two categories based on nothing but stereotypical beliefs that certainly don’t apply easily to any individual, male or female, who decides they want to become a Marine. Seriously, who wants to become a watered-down version of a Marine? We wanted to become Marines because of what Marines stand for. We didn’t want to become half-Marines, or Marines with an asterisk. We wanted the whole deal.

And above all, such standards are dangerous, because they call into question the abilities of female Marines based on externally-held beliefs about what those Marines are capable of. And really, the danger goes much deeper than that. I co-authored a Proceedings piece about that some time ago.

Why are separate standards for women there? Read First Class, by Sharon Disher, or Breaking Out, by Laura Brodie, to get an idea of how those standards were set and who really was asking for them (hint: it wasn’t the women trying to join the academies or VMI. It was the middle-aged men making the decisions and regulations.).

So to sum up: separate and unequal physical standards help no one and endanger everyone; most of us do not want or need separate standards; and the Marine Corps would be better with one standard for Marines based on the needs of the job. Stop blaming female Marines for being subject to lower physical standards, and start listening to them when they say they don’t want them. For crying out loud, we have been saying it long enough. That is all.



President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China shake hands after their joint news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing November 12, 2014.

President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China shake hands after their joint news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing November 12, 2014.

As the Iran nuclear debate rages in the halls of Congress and the backrooms of Sepah’s leadership, skeptics point to this agreement as another piece of evidence that proves the United States (US) has lost its way in foreign policy. Meanwhile, they contend China has not only jockeyed into position as the clear cut number two world power in an increasingly multipolar system, but is arguably squaring off with the United States to ascend to pole position. Projections indicate that China stands to surpass the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) within a decade, a startling outlook as the US plunges deeper into debt. With this follows US trepidation in terms of economic and military power as China continues to expand its physical territory on islands in the Pacific and establish diplomatic agreements elsewhere in the world. The ongoing pivot, or rebalancing of resources, assets and military forces to Pacific Command (PACOM) places the focus of the world’s dominant military force squarely on Chinese motive and intention.

How the United States and China avoid outright conflict, or the dynamic Graham Allison has termed Thucydides Trap, merits a closer examination of historical lessons of statecraft in order to deal with challenges unprecedented in scale. There are two lessons of leadership that would prove useful in avoiding escalating conflict between the US and China. First, President Nelson Mandela and his vision for transforming South Africa and charting a new course for his people through and beyond the next generation. His consideration of progress not only drove him to develop policies that would have an immediate impact, but also provide increasing stability beyond the present issues. Second, we can look to the George H.W. Bush Administration’s tasking of capable public servants in critical positions of responsibility during the end of the Cold War and reunification of Germany. There were a variety of challenges to overcome in Europe, yet President Bush had the wisdom and foresight to trust his team as they considered inclusive policy recommendations that incorporated interests on both sides of the equation. Both lessons provide important perspectives for current and future leaders seeking to protect national interests, but also improve stability of the international system in the long-term.

Thucydides Trap and Avoiding Conflict

Graham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School, argues that the US and China ought to seek a way out of what he has termed Thucydides Trap; or the increasing probability of conflict between a dominant power and an ascendant power. Indeed, Chinese President Xi Jingping has embraced this as a goal of Beijing’s foreign policy: “We all need to work together to avoid the Thucydides trap – destructive tensions between an emerging power and established powers … Our aim is to foster a new model of major country relations.” Both Allison and Xi have identified nationalism as an incendiary ingredient that could spark hostilities. This follows the historical lessons from Aristotle and Hobbes to Machiavelli, Niebuhr, and Morgenthau as putting reason and pragmatism above raw emotional drivers.
Similarly, Sino-US relations are disconnected and are growing antagonistic. The antagonism is sponsored in part by the US’s rebalance to PACOM. Dr. Ely Ratner, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security explains: “U.S. efforts to expand its military force posture in Asia, to strengthen security ties with allies and partners, and to enhance the role of regional institutions are viewed by many in Beijing as directly aimed at constraining China’s rise and as the principal cause of regional instability as well as the deterioration of China’s strategic environment.” Ratner goes on to note that China is plagued by an inferiority complex and that Chinese citizens routinely produce low US approval ratings, adding fuel to China’s acrimony. How these social, economic, political, and military factors shape ongoing relations between the two most influential countries in the world requires adept stewardship able to navigate the dangerous waters of national rhetoric and realpolitik competition.

Learning from Historical Precedent

Leaders should be mindful of historical parallels that can inform policies as new generations ascend to positions of influence. Avoiding predominantly raw emotionally driven policy should be of primary concern for leaders in Washington and Beijing as bad policies often emerge under the pressures of unexpected crisis. Existing mechanisms of internal cooperation, public debate, and information exchange should be strengthened to better understand partner motive and intent not only at the leadership level, but among political classes and citizens of both countries. A more thorough understanding of security concerns, education with respect for great power status, steeped in reasonable and rational national interests, are the best remedies to public paranoia, heightened rhetoric, and fear of the unknown.
If the US and China are inevitably moving toward a bi-polar world, lessons from the past can be invaluable in shaping an environment where cooperation and competition coexist. Studying leaders who have successfully managed the complexities of transformation can be useful now and in the future. In Nelson Mandela’s ending of apartheid in South Africa, and George H.W. Bush policy on German reunification, we see two positive examples where consensus, communication, and trust all played a role in shaping positive transformation. More importantly, these policies fostered long term stability in times that could have just as easily trended toward catastrophic upheaval.

South African President Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s legacy in South Africa transcends generations in the same way that Abraham Lincoln’s legacy transcends American lore. The transformation of the country is well known and will not be too detailed here. However, we will consider his critics as their most frequent criticism reflects the importance of time and generational change as it relates to the question of implementing new policies.
John Campbell, senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations wrote an article published in Foreign Policy: “Think Again: Nelson Mandela”. He makes many valid points articulating that South Africa is not the iconic multiracial state that Mandela had set out to create. He highlights the continued segregation:

An astonishing 43.5 percent of South Africans rarely or never speak to someone of another race, according to one 2012 survey. Only about half reported interacting with people of a different race frequently on weekdays, and less than 20 percent regularly socialized with people of other races. As in the United States, racial interaction does increase as you climb the socioeconomic ladder. The black middle class interacts with other races, but largely because whites continue to control the economy. Many of those who rarely speak to people of differing races are rural or township dwellers with limited mobility — people whose social isolation simply mirrors the country’s starkly racial geography.

Apartheid has been abolished yet cultural barriers remain and hinder South Africa’s societal progress. Upbraiding Mandela is unreasonable because historically it takes generations to cure the wounds of violence and oppression. This was true following the US Civil War, and it is arguable that time represents a similar challenge in US-Sino relations. Societal change will not occur over night, over the term of a single PACOM Commander or even one presidency. Refining US-Sino relations will take generations, but action must be taken now to show future generations that partnerships can be built despite previous rivalries.
Nelson Mandela left South Africa with a legacy of peace, equality, economic growth and moral prosperity. Though here, he stands before Sino-US leadership as nothing more than a single model of how historical successes can effectively guide modern decisions. The decisions that we make, for better or for worse, we bequeath to our beneficiaries. Therefore, one of two fates awaits our bipolarizing world: one where we have left our fate to chance by continuing down the path of ignorance; or we learn from our mistakes and break from cyclical patterns of self-destruction.

The Bush Administration and German Unification

At the end of the Cold War there was a high potential for instability over the question of German reunification. Many leaders within East and West Germany were uncertain about the wisdom of bringing together two different states that had coexisted with different economic models, political systems, and divergent trends in development. Much of the public in West Germany was concerned over the prospect of unifying with a less developed East German economic model that would weigh as an anchor on a prosperous and successful West.
Yet President George H.W. Bush threw America’s full support behind the idea of one Germany, and tasked his best and brightest advisors to manage that policy portfolio and complexities of a transformative moment. Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft were supported by a fluid and capable team fully committed to identifying, developing, and managing policy solutions to the concerns of leaders on both sides. Furthermore, behind the scenes reassurance to allies, adversaries, and defining this mutual interest for European powers provided important clarity for everyone involved. Open and honest communication on the big picture importance of a stable and prosperous Germany was not only an interest of the United States and Germany, but one that transcended the two parties to include both Europe and the wider international system.

As we look back through the lens of history, it becomes readily apparent the Bush Administration’s full commitment to the prospect of a stable Germany remains one of the most important case studies of wise statecraft in recent times. Despite surprisingly little fanfare and a careful framing of the debate, with mindful stewardship and inclusion of leaders from all sides, German unity became an interest for the world over. What can be even more appreciated is the lesson of trusting qualified, capable public servants to develop pragmatic, inclusive policies lasting a generation and beyond.

Remaining Stable and Balanced in the 21st Century

Fortunately, anxieties of an absolute American decline are quelled by the prospect that polarization will be jointly US-Sino in makeup. Yan Xuetong, Dean of Institute of Modern International Relations of Tsinghua University in China, substantiates this point that “in the next decade, no country other than China will be able to narrow its power gaps with the US. With the other major powers likely to be left behind farther than ever by both of China and the US, these two giants will probably serve as two poles in the coming world order.” While competition is inevitable in a bipolar world, history has shown that competition can be managed and balanced. Moreover, continued joint prosperity creates an environment where stability becomes a paramount goal for both sides. Stewards must be capable of managing lesser disputes before they spiral out of proportion and escalate into outright conflict. Provided the shift in global poles is an unstoppable force, the next generation of leadership in Washington and Beijing must make pragmatic application of historical lessons a top priority.



The following study was neither directed nor supported by any government agency. The views presented herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the DoD or its Components. The study has been formatted for online publication. The document in its original form can be found in the references section.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Senate Bill 1376 Section 604 cuts Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) compensation by 25% for all cohabitating service members and cuts it entirely for the junior member of a dual-military marriage in most cases.

Section 604 is proposed as a cost-savings measure that targets unnecessary spending. An in-depth examination, however, reveals that its means are regressive, discriminatory, and costly.

The overwhelming majority of those affected by Section 604 are the service’s junior-most members, and those members are affected by a greater magnitude than seniors.

The bill discriminates against specific service member marital choices and penalizes female service members at a disproportionate rate.

Potential cost-savings depend exclusively upon a service member’s willingness to continue working despite a significant compensation cut. Any associated attrition reduces cost-savings, and attrition beyond a certain minimal threshold increases costs.

Section 604 is not in keeping with the military’s efforts to recruit and retain high quality people, and should it pass, the bill will negatively affect morale, recruitment, retention, and future budgets.

BACKGROUND

On June 18, 2015 the U.S. Senate passed S. 1376, its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016.[1] Section 604 attempts to decrease spending by imposing compensation reductions for cohabitating single service members and members in dual-military marriages.[2] The provision is not part of H.R. 1735, the House version of the NDAA, nor is it part of the Department of Defense Budget Request.[3],[4] Since the bill’s proposal, Section 604 has endured intense scrutiny and has been publicly opposed by President Obama and senior Defense Department leaders.[5] Nevertheless, the provision remains the subject of contentious and emotional debate amongst interested parties, in and out of uniform, and has become the impetus for broader conversations pertaining to military compensation and demographics.[6] A review of public comments, in favor of and in opposition to Section 604, reveals deep and broad misunderstandings of history, the law, and economics as they apply to these subjects.

PURPOSE

To replace misinformation and conjecture with facts and realities, the following study defines relevant terms using source document lexicon, describes the evolution of military housing finance in response to changing family demographics from 1949 to 2015, challenges the assumptions inherent in S. 1376 Section 604, evaluates the bill’s effectiveness as a cost-savings measure, and describes it’s likely impact on service members and the overall force.

RELEVANT TERMS DEFINED

To properly evaluate any proposal involving military compensation and its components, one must understand the following terms as defined by U.S. law or Department of Defense policy.

Pay– The term “pay” includes basic pay, special pay, retainer pay, incentive pay, retired pay, and equivalent pay, but does not include allowances.[7]

Allowance– the term is not defined in Title 37, Chapter 1, “Definitions,” nor is it defined in Chapter 7 “Allowances other than Travel and Transportation,” Section 401, “Definitions”,” or anywhere else in U.S. Code Title 37 “Pay and Allowances of the Uniformed Services.” “Allowance” is, however, referenced in sections covering Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) and Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and the tax-free attribute commonly associated with allowances is described in the latter, “Federal tax advantage accruing to the aforementioned allowances because they are not subject to Federal income tax.”[8]

Regular Military Compensation– The term “regular compensation” or “regular military compensation (RMC)” means “the total of the following elements that a member of a uniformed service accrues or receives, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind every payday: basic pay, basic allowance for housing, basic allowance for subsistence; and Federal tax advantage accruing to the aforementioned allowances because they are not subject to Federal income tax.”[9]

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)– the term is not explicitly defined in Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 403 “Allowances other than Travel and Transportation,” of the U.S. Code, however, its construct is explained in detail:

(a) General Entitlement.-(1) Except as otherwise provided by law, a member of a uniformed service who is entitled to basic pay is entitled to a basic allowance for housing at the monthly rates prescribed under this section or another provision of law with regard to the applicable component of the basic allowance for housing. The amount of the basic allowance for housing for a member will vary according to the pay grade in which the member is assigned or distributed for basic pay purposes, the dependency status of the member, and the geographic location of the member.[10]

(The “except as otherwise provided by law” is presumably included to account for those situations where members are not entitled to BAH due to specific training requirements (e.g. USMC Basic School mandated barracks utilization,) a member’s non-drilling reserve status or in situations in which a member is assigned to a location where government housing is available.”

Dependent– Defined in Title 37 U.S.C. Section 401, a dependent is a spouse, an unmarried child under the age of 21 (or under the age of 23 if the child is a full-time student and dependent on the member for over one-half of financial support or if the child is incapacitated and dependent on the member for one-half of financial support), or a parent, if the parent is dependent on the member for over one-half of the parent’s financial support. A spouse, however, is considered a dependent regardless of employment status, income level or financial assets.

Dual-military Marriage- a marriage in which each spouse is serving as a member of the military. All references to “dual-military” henceforth refer to those couples in which each member is serving as part of the Active Component (AC), as this is the relevant group to consider when discussing BAH.

THE EVOLUTION OF BAH, MILITARY INTEGRATION POLICIES, AND AMERICAN FAMILY DEMOGRAPHICS

The Career Compensation Act of 1949 established “Basic Allowance for Quarters,” or “BAQ,” the predecessor to BAH, as a stipend paid to service members when government housing was unavailable.[11] At the time, a military family likely consisted of a male service member who had access to on-base housing and supported his female spouse and children. In the six and a half decades since, the American workforce, the American family, and the American military have undergone drastic changes, many of them due to equal rights movements. While often lagging, military compensation rates, policy initiatives, and family demographics have evolved along with those of America as a whole. The following timeline highlights significant shifts in each of the above, from 1949 to 2015.

1949

  • Career Compensation Act of 1949 established the “basic allowance for quarters,” which provided service members an allowance for housing equivalent to 75% of what civilians in a similar income bracket could afford. The allowance was based on grade and dependent status, where a dependent was a female spouse and/or a child.[12]
  • Women made up less than 2% of the armed forces, as required by the Women Services Integration Act of 1948, which permitted women to serve in all branches of the military, but limited them to less than 2% of each branch.[13]
  • According to U.S. Census data, women accounted for 31% of the overall U.S labor force.[14]

1973

  • Title 37 U.S.C. Section 401 was amended to remove the provision requiring a female service member to prove to the Federal Government, in order to qualify for the “with dependent” rate, that her spouse was dependent for more than one-half of his financial support.
  • This change effectively ended any form of “means testing” in order to qualify for the housing allowance overall, or for the “with dependent” rate.

1973

  • The military draft ended, and the military transitioned to an all-volunteer force.
  • Women made up 2% of the enlisted ranks, and 4% of the officer corps.[15]

1980

  • First co-ed class graduated from the United States Service Academies (1978 for USMMA).

1981

  • Congress increased BAQ rates by 14.3% and increased basic pay rates by 10-15% in order to “restore, in current dollars, the relative relationship of military compensation to pay in the private sector that existed in 1972” when Congress adopted the “all-volunteer force.” [16]
  • All elements of RMC were raised to make compensation competitive with the civilian sector.

1991

  • Title 37 U.S.C. Section 401 was amended to remove “he” and “his” pronouns from the definition of a military dependent. This change replaced phrases such as “his spouse” with the gender neutral phrase “the service member’s spouse.”

1996

  • Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was enacted.

1998

  • Legislation was passed that established the modern “basic allowance for housing,” which factored grade, dependent status and geographic location into its calculation to provide service members with an allowance equal to 85% of housing costs for a civilian in a similar income bracket.[17]

2001

  • The National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2001 removed the formula that provided service members with BAH equal to 85% of housing costs, with the intention to have BAH cover 100% of the costs of what a civilian in a similar income bracket could afford. This formula did not account for any additional spousal income.[18]

2003

  • Title 37 U.S.C. Section 403 was amended so that each member of a dual-military couple received BAH at the single rate, and if the couple had children, the senior member received BAH at the with dependent rate.

2005

  • Median rental housing costs were covered 100% by BAH nationwide.[19]

2011

  • Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly in the military.
  • Women made up 14% of the enlisted ranks and 16% of the officer corps.[20]
  • According to U.S. Census data, women accounted for 47% of the overall U.S. labor force.[21]

2013

  • The Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional. Immediately following, DoD afforded same-sex marriages the same benefits afforded to all other military marriages.

2014

  • The DoD adjusted the BAH algorithm down by 1% and removed “renter’s insurance” as a variable. Spousal income remained a non-factor to the housing allowance algorithm.[22]

2015

  • Supreme Court required all states to recognize same-sex marriages.

Contrary to 1949, today’s American military family may be supported by a matriarch, whose “stay-at-home” husband cares for the kids. It may consist of a male Sailor married to a female investment banker, or a female Soldier married to a female Airman. Each of these families may have children, and their children may have been adopted or carried by a surrogate. What defines a “typical” American family has changed along with the times. Therefore, BAH cannot be viewed through the same lens that was used over six decades ago.

EXISTING LAW (FY2003-2015)

Since 2003, the National Defense Authorization Act and other precipitating Department of Defense Documents have consistently defined two BAH categories:

  • BAH without dependents- allowance entitled by law to eligible service members in an amount calculated by the Defense Travel Management Office in accordance with regulations. The allowance applies to service members who cannot claim a dependent as defined in Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 101 of the U.S. Code. In all geographies and across all ranks, this is the lower of two distinctive amounts offered to service members based on their dependency status.
  • BAH with dependents- Same as above with the exception that this allowance applies to service members who CAN claim a dependent as defined in Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 101 of the U.S. Code.

These two categories apply differently to four potential lifestyle scenarios relevant to this study (dependency scenarios beyond those affected by S. 1376, Section 604 exist but are beyond the scope of this study, and therefore, not listed):

  • A service member living either alone or with a non-dependent civilian receives BAH at the without dependent rate.
  • A service member who marries a civilian or has a child (or other dependent) or both, receives BAH at the with dependent rate, regardless of the spouse’s employment status or income, and independent of the number of children (other dependents) in the household.
  • Two service members who cohabitate (married or unmarried) each receive BAH at the without dependent rate.
  • In the case where each member of a married couple serves in the military, and has a child or children, the senior member receives BAH at the with dependent rate and the junior member receives BAH at the without dependent rate.

S. 1376 SECTION 604

Senate Bill 1376 Section 604 amends Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 403 of the U.S. Code to reduce BAH for cohabitating military members eligible to receive the allowance “without dependents” to 75% of the prevailing rate and to eliminate BAH for the junior member of a cohabitating dual-military marriage residing within commuting distance to his/her workplace. The provision, if enacted, would take effect on October 1, 2015; however, reductions in compensation would not apply until a member received orders requiring a Permanent Change of Station (PCS).[23]

As reported by the media, the Senate aims to curb overall Federal spending on BAH under the assumption that military gender integration and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) have accelerated DoD personnel spending.[24] The Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) view, according to the press, is that BAH is not compensation and was never intended as such, therefore, it is subject to reduction at discriminatory and disproportionate rates.[25] The following section examines the validity of SASC assumptions, stated and implied, from an analytical, economical, and historical perspective.

S. 1376 SECTION 604’s ASSUMPTIONS TESTED

BAH is not compensation and should not be viewed as such.

False. According to United States Code, Title 37, Chapter 1, Section 101, (25), BAH is part of Regular Military Compensation (RMC), a term that includes BAH by definition. The Defense department further articulates that RMC represents “a basic level of compensation which every service member receives, directly or indirectly, in-cash or in-kind, and which is common to all military personnel based on their pay grade, years of service, and family size.”[26]

Not only is BAH defined as compensation, it has been treated as such for decades. Since 1964, military pay raises have been distributed amongst each of the three components of RMC.[27] In 1980, and again in the early 1990s, Congress created new initiatives to keep RMC competitive with private sector compensation, acknowledging the need to do so to retain members serving in an ever more educated and technical all-volunteer force.[28] The House Armed Services Committee articulated its philosophy in 1991 when proposing a 4.1% increase in EACH component of RMC:

The committee remains committed to preserving a total military compensation package that will continue to attract and retain the high quality young men and women in the nation’s armed forces today. The committee is determined to maintain a competitive level of compensation in the future and to protect the quality of life for service members and their families.[29]

This well-known principle is used in military recruitment and retention materials, which routinely urge current and future service members to include the value of housing and other allowances when deciding whether or not to join or stay. An example from the Navy Web Page states:

When considering salary, be sure to take into account the value of housing and other allowances – plus outstanding Navy health-care benefits – which adds thousands of dollars to the value of your compensation.[30]

While the relationship between military and civilian compensation has fluctuated throughout the years, using all-components of RMC to compare the two has remained a constant.[31]

Finally, leaders at the highest levels, from those in the DoD to the Commander-in-Chief, recognize, “BAH is a part of every member’s regular military compensation . . .”[32]

BAH should only be used for housing.

False. The Defense Management Travel Office (DTMO), the Federal agency responsible for determining BAH rates in accordance with U.S. Code and for publishing their analysis via an annual “BAH Primer” states:

The Department of Defense and the Services designed the Basic Allowance for Housing program to provide accurate housing allowances based on the market price of rental housing rather than member‐reported rents. . .

The BAH program measures rental‐housing costs in the civilian market rather than measuring how much members spend on housing. This method ensures a more accurate correlation between allowance payments and rental prices. . . A member’s actual expenses may be higher or lower based on a member’s actual choice of housing and where they live. . .

The opportunity for service members to choose their off-base housing is important to DoD. Each member has the freedom to decide how to allocate his or her income (including housing allowance) without a penalty for deciding to conserve some dollars on rent to pay other expenses.[33]

Section 604 includes a “grandfather” clause.

True and False. The original proposal did not include any provision to delay compensation cuts beyond October 1, 2015. Such a delay would allow affected military members to prepare their finances. An amendment sponsored by Montana Senator, Steve Daines, added language that enforces the BAH reduction for affected members when one cohabitating member receives Permanent Change of Station orders outside the normal commuting distance of his/her current station.[34] In some sense, then, the provision is “grandfathered.” Practically, however, any military member is no more than 36 months away from his/her next PCS. Therefore, it is reasonable to presume that a large number of affected members will see pay cuts in the immediate or near future, if the bill is passed.

As a point of comparison, the President, Congress and the Department of Defense have repeatedly supported a “grandfathering” approach to military retirement compensation reform.[35] Their commitment is based on “keeping faith with military members” recruited and retained on a particular expectation of retirement compensation. Yet, despite the fact that the same representatives have collectively voted in favor of (or supported in DoD’s case) current BAH laws 13 times since 2003, and military members have been recruited and retained based on a particular expectation of BAH compensation, the same commitment to keeping faith seemingly does not apply here.

BAH provides excessive and unearned income to dual-military marriages.

False. Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 403, (2) of the U.S. Code states, “The Secretary shall base the (BAH rate) determination upon the costs of adequate housing for civilians with comparable income levels in the same area.”[36] Logically, a civilian household in which each spouse is employed produces twice as much income as a civilian household in which only one spouse is employed, assuming all are similarly qualified. Since military BAH rates are differentiated by pay grade, and since fraternization policies prohibit members to marry well outside their pay grade, it is reasonable to use similarly qualified civilian dual-income households to determine “comparable income levels” for dual-military couples. In other words, a comparable income level for two O-3s should be a local household comprised of two working adults who each have bachelor’s degrees and 4-9 years of professional experience.

It is also logical that a senior military couple, like any other dual-employed and similarly qualified civilian couple, would earn what some may consider a high standard of living. Consider that an O-6 is guaranteed to hold a bachelor’s degree and have approximately 22 years of professional experience, and he/she is highly likely to hold a master’s degree and have held at least one, if not two, “C-suite” equivalent jobs.[37] Imposing a marriage penalty on that individual based on a value judgment that his/her standard of living is too high, in the rare case he/she is married to another O-6, creates a precedent unlike any other in the U.S. professional workforce.

Such a provision sends a message to the military that legislative leaders accept the standard of living of a business executive married to a lawyer, a GS-15 married to a GS-15, and a Congressman married to a Congressman, or any combination thereof; and that they equally accept the standard of living of a service member who marries any of the aforementioned. Yet, ONLY in the case in which a service member is married to another service member does that standard of living become unacceptable.

FIGURE 1

Possible combinations of married couples civilian, GS, and military

Marriage Penalty Comparison

 

This concept applies to E-6s just as much as it does to O-6s. In fact, discussing two O-6s married to one another in reference to Section 604 is as statistically irrelevant as mentioning two Congressmen married to one another, a point which will be explained later in detail.

Dual-military marriages have risen to 11.5%.

 True and False. Stars and Stripes reports that the number of members in dual-military marriages has increased in recent years and now represents 11.5% of the force.[38] While the percentage is accurate for the Total Force (TF), using TF data in reference to S. 1376 Section 604 is misleading and irrelevant. The TF consists of both the Active Component (AC) and Reserve Component (RC). Due to the “reserve” nature of the RC, these members rarely draw BAH. Furthermore, to be subject to S. 1376 Section 604, both members of a dual-military RC marriage would have to be simultaneously activated, an equally unlikely scenario. Finally, while RC dual-military marriages have increased in the past 13 years, from 1.9 to 2.6% of the RC, a negligible portion of a 0.7% increase over more than a decade can hardly be responsible for increased Federal spending. The appropriate demographic to consider is the AC.

In recent decades, dual-military marriages have increased in both numbers and as a percentage of the AC force.

 False. On an annual basis, the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy), under contract with ICF International, produces a comprehensive and near all-inclusive report on military demographics. The most recent data covers the period 1995-2013. Unless otherwise explicitly stated or noted, all discussions contained herein reference this report entitled, “2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community.” Figure 2 was derived from that source and applies to the active component force, the only demographic that receives BAH on a routine basis.

FIGURE 2

Number and Percentage of Active Component Members by Family Status Trends: 1995-2013 

Percentage by family trends

False. Since the repeal of DADT in 2011, the number of dual-military couples has decreased in both numbers and as a percentage of the active duty force over successive years for which we have data: 6.5% in 2011 (91,916), 6.4% in 2012 (87,993), and 6.4% in 2013 (87,211).Since the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) dual-military marriages have increased in both numbers and as a percentage of the AC force.

Dual-military marriages cost the federal government more in BAH than other demographics. For example, two married O-6s living in Washington, DC receive an excessive amount of tax-free housing allowance a year.

False. Under existing law, service members who choose to marry another service member, rather than a civilian, suffer a “military marriage penalty” that equates to a “federal cost savings.” Consider the following scenarios, referencing Figure 3: 

FIGURE 3

2015 Federal BAH Spending on Married O-6 Service Members in the NCR[40]

 

Married O6 BAH

Suppose the DoD must fill two O-6 billets to meet end strength requirements in the National Capitol Region (NCR). If those O-6s do not have dependents, the Federal government is required to compensate each of them with BAH at the without dependent rate. Similarly, if those same O-6s marry one another, the Federal government is still only required to compensate each of them with BAH at the without dependent rate. Therefore, their dual-military status has no impact on Federal BAH spending.

However, if those same O-6s marry civilian spouses, which ~80% of AC O-6s do, the Federal government twice incurs an additional BAH cost in that it is then required to compensate each of them with BAH at the with dependent rate.

If the dual-military O-6s have children, the Federal savings is slightly lesser due to the fact that the senior member would switch from without to with dependent BAH. Nevertheless, in every possible combination the dual-military marriage consumes fewer overall dollars of BAH spending, making such marriages the most cost-effective BAH scenario to the Federal Government.

It is critically important to note that, while the concepts based on O-6 BAH rates in the National Capital Region are accurate and universally applicable, these numbers should not be used as talking points in favor of, or in opposition to, the proposed legislation because they do not represent the demographic affected by S. 1376 Section 604 on two accounts:

  • The NCR is but 1 of 300 Military Housing Areas (MHA) used to calculate BAH rates and it encompasses the nation’s most expensive place to live.[41]
  • The number of O-6 and above active duty dual-military couples is in the hundreds, while the number of active duty dual-military couples O-3 and below is in the tens of thousands, or more precisely, 93%.[42]

Therefore, using these numbers as talking points in favor of Section 604 is as much a misrepresentation of reality as using numbers for E-1s living in the cheapest MHA as a talking point in opposition to the legislation.

An effective and truthful analysis, one that this study will use from this point forward, considers the demographic most representative of the one targeted by the Bill: E-5 to E-6. In terms of pay grade, service members E-5 to E-6 comprise the largest portion of the affected personnel at 39.2%.[43] The following figure considers possible combinations for E-5s:

 FIGURE 4

Federal BAH Spending on E-5 Married Service Members Based on the Median National Rate[44]

 

BAH E-5

Figure 4 not only provides the most appropriate set of data on which to base broader discussions, when compared to Figure two, it confirms that dual-military couples reduce Federal BAH spending regardless of rank.

BAH, however, represents only the beginning of cost savings generated by dual-military marriages. Adding health care to the equation exponentially increases the dollar return on a dual-military family. Each year the DoD pays health care costs for ~1,370,329 AC members and their ~1,878,092 dependents. In other words, family members will consume more of the $47.8 billion requested for the FY16 Unified Medical Budget than those actually serving in uniform.[45]

Every time a military member chooses to marry another military member as opposed to marrying a civilian, the DoD has at least two fewer dependents to consider when budgeting for health care and BAH. The following illustrations use annual BAH and health care expenditures on dual-military and military-to-civilian families to demonstrate this concept:

 FIGURE 5

Dependents and costs generated by dual-military and civilian-to-military families

ratios

*A weighted average probability of family demographics is used to estimate military-to-civilian hiring costs. It considers the hiring likelihood of singles, members married to civilians, and members married to civilians with 1 child (additional dependent). Each additional civilian dependent creates a health care cost (HC) beyond that of the service member.

 *A weighted average probability of family demographics is used to estimate military-to-civilian hiring costs. It considers the hiring likelihood of singles, members married to civilians, and members married to civilians with 1 child (additional dependent). Each additional civilian dependent creates a health care cost (HC) beyond that of the service member.

While the diagram above only considers BAH and health care, the dependent reduction effect of dual-military marriages provides even more cost-savings to the Federal government. There are too many dependent entitlements to quantify in this report, but they include: V.A. Benefits, Spouse Employment Assistance Program, etc.

Having demonstrated the value to the Federal government when a dual-military marriage is created, it is equally important to mention the value that is lost when such a couple is dis-incentivized from continued service, as would be the case if S. 1376 Section 604 becomes law. Uniquely, when one of the members of a dual-military couple resigns, not only does that person require a replacement, but they also become a dependent (assuming their spouse remains in the AC). Therefore, it is more costly to lose a member of a dual-military marriage than one that is married to a civilian.

Ultimately, overall spending on military personnel decreases as the number of dependents decreases. Considering U.S. family demographics (including a couple’s likelihood to have children, biological or otherwise), the most cost effective couple for the Department of Defense is one that is same-sex dual-military, followed by heterosexual dual-military, and finally heterosexual military-to-civilian.[46]

 IF NOT DUAL-MILITARY MARRIAGES AND DADT REPEAL THEN WHY THE INCREASED SPENDING?

Reduced “on-base” housing supply accompanied by steady demand.

Despite late 1990s force drawdowns and those in recent years, as well as force build-ups due to the Operations ENDURING and IRAQI FREEDOM, active duty military DoD end strength has remained relatively constant over the past 20 years. (Mean end-strength – ~3.37 million, median end-strength- ~3.3 million, range ~3.2-3.7)[47]

At the same time, the number of on-base housing units steadily decreased due to Base Realignment and Closure Commission rounds. The 1995 round proposed to close 32 major U.S. military bases. Ultimately, 35 bases were either closed or realigned.[48]

The 2005 round proposed to close 22 major U.S. military bases and to realign 33 others. Closures and realignments resulting from 2005 proposals are ongoing.[49]

Decreasing government housing availability due to decreasing numbers of military bases and private-public venture efforts, accompanied by steady end strength, has required more members to seek housing off base. As more members have become eligible for BAH compensation, total spending on BAH has increased in kind.

An upwardly biased algorithm.

The algorithm used to calculate BAH allows increases in-kind with increases in aggregate rents, however, due to rate protection, a one-way valve that “locks-in” a floor during a member’s lease term, BAH does not decrease at the same rate as aggregate rents.

Congressional efforts to trend military compensation rates towards those of the private sector in a nascent all-volunteer force that increasingly required higher education and technical skills.

For two decades, Congress passed legislation to close the gap between military and private sector compensation using each element of RMC (basic pay, BAS, and BAH). BAH increased at accelerated rates between 2001 and 2005, due to Secretary Cohen’s goal to cover 100% of housing costs.[50] The “allowance” attributes of BAH were particularly attractive to Congress when determining which part of RMC to increase due to their tax-free nature. Increases in BAH had a multiplier effect over increases in basic pay. This allowed Congress to keep the total compensation number low while increasing effective compensation substantially, thereby reducing annual budgets and retirement obligations. Importantly, all compensation increases were applied universally, benefiting every service member regardless of their dependent or marital status. By 2011, the Quadrennial Military Compensation Review assessed military compensation to be closely aligned with that of the private sector.[51]

NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF S. 1376 SECTION 604

Regressive

The Commandant of the Marine Corps does not live with the Chief of Naval Operations, nor does the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force live with the Sergeant Major of the Army. An extreme example, no doubt, but demonstrative of the fact that, due to compensation and lifestyle choices associated with service members O-4 and above and E-7 and above, this demographic is not likely to cohabitate, married or not.

It is probable, however, that officers and enlisted, pay grades O-1 to O-3 and E-1 to E-6 have cohabitated, are cohabitating, or will cohabitate.[52] Therefore, while all service members enjoyed BAH increases outlined in the section above, only the junior most members will suffer the overwhelming majority of the 25% and 100% BAH cuts under S. 1376 Section 604.

The regressive impact is compounded by the fact that BAH is a greater portion of overall compensation for junior service members than it is for senior members. For example, BAH is 31% of Regular military Compensation for an E-5 and just 10.3% for an O-10.

Discriminatory

Not only does Section 604 discriminate against the military’s junior-most members as described above, it inequitably targets dual-military members as a whole (who only represent 6.4% of the active duty force), and has a particularly disparate effect on women. If 604 were to take effect, two cohabitating E-5s would each see a 25% cut in BAH. However, if those two E-5s married one another, the junior of the two would lose 100% of BAH. Because women only comprise ~14.9% of the force, but still account for ~50% of service members in dual-military marriages, they are 650% more likely than men to be affected by Section 604.[53]

Also consider that, in American heterosexual marriages, a male is more likely to be older than his female spouse. Since military rank structure is largely defined by tenure, and since the overwhelming majority of senior officers and enlisted are male, it is highly likely that the woman is the junior member of a dual-military couple.[54] Therefore, women are not only more likely than men to be indirectly effected, but they are more likely to be directly affected. In either case, the discriminatory nature of the proposal creates an incentive for women to resign from service.

Section 604 further discriminates by targeting but protecting an arbitrary benefit provided to a “policy-preferred” demographic. Since the current system is based on the previously described 1949 paradigm, in which a civilian spouse is assumed to be dependent on the service member, it favors the 1949 family model over other married models and over singles. For example, a single E-5 who performs the same duties as an E-5 who is married to a teacher or a lawyer gets paid less simply for being single. This attribute is preserved by Section 604.

Additionally, 25% of civilian spouses are employed AND do not have children.[55] In these cases, the service member still receives a dependent benefit despite having no true financial dependent. Dependency considerations also neglect scenarios in which a civilian spouse earns higher compensation than the service member. Here too, the service member receives a dependent benefit despite having no true financial dependent. If Section 604 becomes law, an O-5 in the NCR who marries a hedge fund manager will receive an annual pay raise of $5,472 while an O-5 who marries an O-6 will be penalized with a $31,464 annual pay cut.[56]

Costly

Any proposed cost-savings or compensation initiatives must consider incentives in their calculus. Under the provision that reduces cohabitation BAH by 25%, members are less likely to cohabitate with other members and more likely to get civilian roommates or live alone. Therefore, what sounds like a cost-savings measure, may not produce the desired effect.

In the case of the dual-military couple, in order to achieve any cost savings by eliminating BAH from the junior member’s compensation, that member has to commit to work equally for unequal pay (e.g. a 31% reduction in compensation for an E-5). If that member resigns, S. 1376 Section 604 can no longer exploit her for cost savings. A measure that attempts to decrease spending by retaining a specific demographic, then applies, as its primary cost-savings mechanism, an incentive for that same demographic to resign, is sure to fail.

For example, Congress could propose a law that eliminated basic pay from the compensation package of Naval Aviators or Army Rangers. If all Naval Aviators and Army Rangers continued to serve despite a draconian pay cut, spending would certainly decrease. However, it is reasonable to assume that the Joint Force would lose a large number of Naval Aviators and Army Rangers as a result of the new policy and be left with a hollow force and a recruiting problem.

However, Naval Aviators and Army Rangers are not the most cost-effective demographic. That attribute belongs to dual-military marriages. Therefore, Section 604, targets the most cost-effective group and provides it with the following choice: accept unequal pay for equal work, get a divorce, or resign. If 45,000 signatures on a White House petition are any indication of which choice dual-military couples will make, the likelihood of resignation being a popular choice is high.[57]

And when a dual-military spouse resigns, the number of dependents on the Department of Defense, and the accompanying costs, increases at a much higher rate than any other demographic. The effect is so drastic that if the percentage of dual-military couples drops from 6.4% the AC force to 4.6%, Section 604 becomes cost neutral. At 4.5%, Section 604 begins to cost the Department of Defense $2.6 million for every .1% drop. Since attrition is dynamic and includes both those who resign and others who are dis-incentivized to join, this measure creates an unpredictable and precarious position for the Department.

Importantly, to preserve the integrity of this study, all data used considers extremes that make Section 604 most effective. According to CBO reports, however, first-year “cost-savings” only amount to $3.4 million vice the $8.8 million used in the calculations above. When considering CBO data, dual-military marriages as a percentage of the total force would only have to fall .064% to ~5.7% to negate any potential cost-savings.[58] Attrition, static or dynamic, is NOT considered in the CBO report. The report rather assumes that 100% of affected service members will martyr themselves to Section 604.

Finally, Section 604 does not consider divorce. Divorce rates in the military are high and even higher for those in dual-military marriages.[59] If the marriage penalty in Section 604 becomes law, then a junior service member choosing to separate from her/his spouse would be beholden to the senior member for housing. Under state law in both Virginia and California, states with a large number of active component military members, there is a minimum waiting period of 6 months for a divorce to become finalized.[60] In some cases, divorce proceedings can take years. This added challenge is sure to lower the mission readiness of the junior service member, especially when the separation is caused by situations such as domestic violence or adultery.

CONCLUSION

Senate Bill 1376 Section 604 is a case in which the narrative is driving the facts rather than the facts driving the narrative. The provision is based on false assumptions; it is regressive, it is discriminatory, and it exacerbates the problem it intends to curb while introducing new problems. Furthermore, it contradicts Secretary of Defense Carter’s vision of the “Force of the Future” and undermines the continued gender integration efforts of leaders like Navy Secretary, Ray Mabus, who champion equal opportunity for all Americans to serve. An alternative and necessary solution, one that is effective, intelligent, and just, must utilize data-driven economics, target the source of increased spending, provide guaranteed and predictable savings, and institute a universally applicable correction.

Original Document

[1] S. 1376.

[2] Ibid.

[3] H.R. 1735.

[4] United States Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request

[5] Statement of Administration Policy, S. 1376, Executive Office of the President (June 2, 2015).

[6] Erik Slavin. “BAH Change for Dual-Military Couples Could Cause Troubles.” Stars and Stripes, 22 June 2015: Web.

[7] United States Code, Title 37, Chapter 1, Section 101, (21).

[8] United States Code, Title 37, Chapter 1.

[9] United States Code, Title 37, Chapter 1, Section 101, (25).

[10] United States Code, Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 403.

[11] “Basic Allowance for Housing.” Military Compensation Background Papers: Compensation Elements and Related Manpower Cost Items: Their Purposes and Legislative Backgrounds. Seventh ed. Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2011. 167-204. Print.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Women’s Armed Services Integration Act.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 06 July 2015.

[14] We Asked– You Told Us. Washington, D.C. : U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census, 1995. Web. 06 July 2015.

[15] “Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile.” Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS. N.p., 22 Dec. 2011. Web. 06 July 2015.

[16] “Basic Allowance for Housing.” Military Compensation Background Papers: Compensation Elements and Related Manpower Cost Items: Their Purposes and Legislative Backgrounds. Seventh ed. Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2011. 167-204. Print.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] “Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile.” Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS. N.p., 22 Dec. 2011. Web. 06 July 2015.

[21] Statistics, U.S. Bureau Of Labor. “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook.” Web. 06 July 2015.

[22] A Primer on the Basic Allowance for Housing. Defense Travel Management Office, Jan. 2015. Web. 07 July 2015.

[23] S. 1376, Section 604.

[24] Erik Slavin. “BAH Change for Dual-Military Couples Could Cause Troubles.” Stars and Stripes, 22 June 2015: Web.

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Military Compensation.” Regular (RMC) Calculator. Web. 08 July 2015.

[27] “Basic Allowance for Housing.” Military Compensation Background Papers: Compensation Elements and Related Manpower Cost Items: Their Purposes and Legislative Backgrounds. Seventh ed. Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2011. 167-204. Web.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “Military Pay.” Military Pay Chart & US Navy Pay Grades : Navy.com. Navy Recruiting Command, Web. 09 July 2015. http://www.navy.com/joining/benefits/pay.html.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Statement of Administration Policy, S. 1376, Executive Office of the President (June 2, 2015).

[33] A Primer on the Basic Allowance for Housing. Defense Travel Management Office, Jan. 2015. Web. 07 July 2015.

[34] S.Amdt.1890 – 114th Congress (2015-2016)

[35] Report of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, January 2015.

[36] U.S.C. Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 403, (2)

[37] FY16 Active Duty Line/Staff Community Briefs, http://www.npc.navy.mil/bupers-npc/boards/activedutyofficer/Pages/CommunityBriefs.aspx

[38] Erik Slavin. “BAH Change for Dual-Military Couples Could Cause Troubles.” Stars and Stripes, 22 June 2015: Web.

[39] Ibid.

[40] BAH Calculator. Defense Travel Management Office, 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 08 July 2015.

[41] “District of Columbia the Nation’s Most Expensive Place to Live.” Real Time Economics RSS. Web. 08 July 2015.

[42] 2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy).

[43] Ibid.

[44] 2015 National Mean BAH Spreadsheet, Defense Management Travel Office.

[45] United States Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request

[46] Gates, Gary J. “Same-sex and Different-sex Couples in the American Community Survey: 2005-2011.” The Williams Institute, Feb. 2013. Web.

[47] 2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy).

[48] Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission, Report to the President, July 1995.

[49] Base Closure and Realignment Report, Volume 1, Part 2, May 2005.

[50] “Basic Allowance for Housing.” Military Compensation Background Papers: Compensation Elements and Related Manpower Cost Items: Their Purposes and Legislative Backgrounds. Seventh ed. Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2011. 167-204. Web.

[51] 2016 Department of Defense Budget Request

[52] U S Census Bureau, Household and Families (2010)

[53] 2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy).

[54] U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2009

[55] 2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy).

[56] BAH Calculator. Defense Travel Management Office, 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 08 July 2015.

[57] Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate for S. 1376

[58] Ibid.

[59] Negrusa, Sebastian, Brighita Negrusa, and James Hosek. “Gone to War: Have Deployments Increased Divorces?” J Popul Econ 27.2 (2013): 473-96. Web.

[60] Va. Code § 20-91, 750 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5 § 401



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