Archive for the 'Marine Corps' Category

Mabus announced a plan to boost the sea service’s enlisted female recruitment efforts to at least 25 percent of all accessions during a mid-May speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The move, he said, will help attract, recruit and retain women in communities in which they are underrepresented.

“[We] need more women in the Navy and Marine Corps; not simply to have more women, but because a more diverse force is a stronger force,” Mabus told an auditorium of midshipmen.

“I’d like to do better than that,” Mabus told reporters Tuesday following an address at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “I think that one in four is a floor, not a ceiling, and if people keep using one in four, I think it’s going to be.”

The services have got to be friendlier when you come in, because even if you get enough women, we’re losing too many between eight and 12 years,” he said.

hqdefaultIn the last month, our Marine Corps provided those who were watching both an object lesson and a case study on how an organization can tear itself apart when it decides to operate under self-contradicting priorities – priorities that do not share the same understanding of what the goals are.

Like people, organizations can get by for a length of time in self-contradiction, self-delusion, and ultimately self-destructive behavior; as long as it is small and does not have a major impact on the end result, or can be mitgated with a little slight of hand.

They can live multiple lives and promote nested systems under a polite agreement to keep the contradictions below the surface and both sides agree that that larger of the two will work harder to mitigate the contradiction of the smaller. As we Southerners like to say, a polite pretense.

There comes a point of inevitable friction when one party decides to not live by the agreement, or the smaller party gets unmanageably large – or both. There is a point someone stands athwart the whole arrangement and yells, “Halt.” Then the brewing conflict breaks out in to the open.

The organization makes a decision to pretend that the conflict is not there, or can be managed as before. The comfort of the “now” remains the priority, the unknown discomfort “later” identified by the challenge will be someone else’s problem.

When that person comes forward with grit, passion, and a steadfast belief in their cause, it then becomes a story of the reaction as the entrenched inertial of the status-quo resists the challenge that cannot be pushed to another PCS cycle. Via C.H. Chivers at NYT;

For decades the Marine Corps has tolerated, even encouraged, lower performance from the young women who enlist in its ranks, an insidious gender bias that begins with the way women are treated immediately after they sign up and continues through their training at boot camp. The results are predictable – female Marines risk being less confident and less fully accepted than their male counterparts, because the Corps has failed them from the outset.

We have often discussed at USNIBlog the importance of our leaders to “… dare to read, think, speak, and write …” – what can happen when you do?

That is the position of Lt. Col. Kate Germano, an active-duty Marine officer who commanded both a Marine recruiting station in San Diego and a segregated all-female training battalion at Parris Island, the Corps’ boot camp in South Carolina. Colonel Germano presented this argument in a draft article, “When Did It Become an Insult to Train Like a Girl?” that she wrote early this year and in which she argued for tougher standards and higher expectations, or, in her words, a movement toward “radical change.”

The article, which does not address full integration into combat roles but details institutional patterns that Colonel Germano suggests ensure female Marines will not be fully respected by their male peers, had been slated for publication in September in the monthly Marine Corps Gazette, a private publication that serves as the Corps’ de facto professional journal. Then matters grew complicated.

That is just one part of the story – read C.J.’s article not only for the full detail, but to also read LtCol Germano’s article that was spiked;

Colonel Germano was relieved of command at Parris Island in June under circumstances that remain contentious, setting off a controversy about whether she was being punished for what the Corps calls an abusive leadership style, or for forcefully expressing her views about the how the Corps trains and integrates women into its male-dominated ranks.

Soon after she was relieved, the editor of the Gazette, John Keenan, who is also a former Marine colonel, dropped Colonel Germano’s article from the journal’s publication lineup. Her arguments taking the Corps to task for what she depicted as a record of double standards and complacency stood not to reach Marines’ eyes, including such passages as this: “The performance double standard extends to virtually every aspect of recruit training. Over the past decade, female recruits have consistently scored below their male counterparts in every quantifiable category minus the gender-normed physical fitness test. Yet despite the statistics, historical records do not indicate that anyone has ever seriously considered why females have consistently been outperformed at boot camp. Acceptance of the status quo has simply become the norm. Ironically, notwithstanding the delta in female-male performance, a greater percentage of female recruits are promoted by contract to private first class upon graduation, meaning they are also more swiftly promoted to lance corporal in spite of potentially being less qualified. This is essentially where the Marine Corps meritocracy cart goes off the rails.”

A few more quotes, this time from LtCol Germano’s spiked article that gives some context to the below;

In general, from the instant a female applicant joins the delayed entry program (DEP) she faces lower expectations for accountability and performance than her male peers. Females are often allowed to miss applicant physical fitness training, seldom hold leadership positions within their respective recruiting substations, and are frequently allowed to ship to recruit training in spite of not having made progress with their physical development, all of which is observed firsthand by their male counterparts. As a result of this double standard, many female recruits arrive at boot camp utterly unprepared for the mental and physical rigors of training. Even more significant, their male counterparts arrive at recruit training with well-established preconceptions about the difference in accountability for men and women in the Marine Corps based on their observations in the DEP. The double standard is reinforced by the fact that, despite most females having an average of five months in the DEP, their IST failure rate is historically nine times greater than that of their male counterparts.

For years, the females and males on Parris Island conducted the nine-mile hike back from the Crucible separately, only to link up for a joint Emblem Ceremony at the Iwo Jima statue after the hike. Conspicuously, a line of chairs would be staged behind the female formation for recruits who were too “exhausted” or sore to stand. Conversely, there were no chairs staged behind the male formation. It was simply expected that the females would fall out of the formation, and fall out they did because there was no set expectation that standing through the ceremony was part of earning the title of U.S. Marine.

High standards for performance should never be gender-normed and, barring physiological differences, concrete evidence shows that women can perform to the same standards as their counterparts if it is demanded of them. In Fiscal Year 15, the Fourth Battalion witnessed this phenomena firsthand at the rifle range. For decades, the female initial qualification rate on the rifle range at Parris Island hovered between 67% – 78%, compared to 85% – 93% for the male training battalions. The male battalions also produced significantly greater percentages of rifle experts and sharpshooters. In Fiscal Year 15, however, the Fourth Battalion drill instructors received a defined intent for success on the rifle range, and through a strong partnership with Weapons and Field Training Battalion were able to achieve an unprecedented 91.68% female initial qualification average. The key to success was establishing the firm expectation that change was both possible and necessary to improve the credibility of our female recruits- come-new-Marines. Once the drill instructors, coaches, and primary marksmanship instructors began to see success, the movement became contagious. For the first time in history, female recruits are competitive with their male counterparts on the rifle range, proving it is not an insult to “shoot like a girl”. However, for lasting improvement across all of the testable categories to be realized, the Institution must be willing to critically examine the environment in which Marines are made and implement radical changes.

Like I said; read it all. I have not even touched on equally important issues of leadership by investigation or the commissarish use of statistically bad DEOMI surveys.

Back to the big picture.

It is this dynamic we have seen this summer in the story of LtCol Kate Germano, USMC, and her desire to bring the standards of performance and accountability to a higher level in the training of female Marines. For her efforts and passion, she was relieved of her command. The why, how, and the environment it all took place in deserves a screen play – so stick with me as we review it here. Follow every link and read it all where the links take you. There is a lot here. Here is the base conflict as I see it.

There are two pressures in the further integration of female Marines; one is from a socio-political camp of the senior civilian leadership, the other is from the operational side of the Marine Corps. The former has two sides to it as well – a paternalistic passive-aggressive vibe that doesn’t expect as much from women as men and therefor sees no reason to demand it , and another that is driven by the worst of sophomore gender-studies seminar course theory.

The later knows that female Marines will be put in harm’s way as much as the men and if that is the case, then they need to be able to perform, be respected by their male peers, and not be a net drag to their unit. The enemy does not care if you are XX or XY, they just want to kill you. You need to be able to kill them first with equal ability. I’m not going to spend much time on the paternalistic passive-aggressive side of the bureaucracy and some of the uniformed leadership, as the that is not where the central character is coming from. No, let’s stick with the source of the friction – a Marine leader who wants her Marines to be the absolute best to serve her Corps, and the socio-political bureaucracy that wants one thing – numbers to feed the metrics.

As part of the Department of the Navy, the USMC must respond to the demand signal of the Secretary of the Navy. That is how it works. As quoted at the top of this post, he has made his goals quite clear. To make it happen though, there is a pipeline problem with that goal that the real world is putting in their way.

It is a well documented challenge to not just recruit women who have the inclination and desire to be in the service, but also to find enough women who have the physical stamina to meet what should be tough but fair physical requirements to be a Marine. Anyone involved in female athletics knows exactly what that basic challenge is.

If you have an artificial numerical goal of a difficult to gather sub-set, every number counts – especially if achieving that number is your priority. To achieve that goal, you have to look hard at every barrier in your way. What are structural, what are required, what are optional. What is the cost and benefit of the removal of each barrier relative to the value you place on each variable? There is the rub.

What if everyone in your organization does not agree that strict numbers of that sub-set are the priority, but quality is? If each barrier from recruiting interview to graduation has a given attrition rate and can impact that final number, what if instead of removing barriers, another person with a different value system decides that many of these barriers are not barriers at all – but are performance gates. Not only should some of them not be removed or lowered, but a few might need to be added, and others raised.

Additional performance gates – standards if you will – and enhanced standards will have two results; first they will ensure at the end of the process you have a higher quality product of that subset, but it also means that you will have fewer numbers of that sub-set.

A thought exercise; if you have a job to do that requires 10 people, does it matter if six are wearing blue shirts and four are wearing red shirts if all 10 people are equally qualified? No. OK, what if eight wear blue and two red? Again, does not matter.

What if all six in blue are qualified, but of those in red, only two are? What is the sane and right thing to do?
1. Being that you are out of people wearing red shirts, but have a bench full of blue shirts, replace the two unqualified in red with qualified blue?
2. Instead of making the swap out, you insist that you like the 6/4 color ratio because it looks good in pictures, and your team will just have to deal with it?

If a competitor comes out on the field, they are all wearing yellow by the way, with 10 people who are all fully qualified, who wins? Where do you put the smart money?

LtCol Germano has only done what we have always asked our leaders to do; take the job you were detailed to do, and make it better. Take care of your people, enhance the ability of the service, and accomplish the mission.

It appears that LtCol Germano thought her mission was to help produce the best female Marines she could. She tried to do that, and was fired.

I guess she was wrong. It looks like there was another mission, one founded on the soft-bigotry of low expectations, lower standards, a fear of Star Chamber like investigations, and ultimately a fealty to metrics.

You see, the numbers are needed for the right metrics, because, we must feed Vaal.

Of course, this internal conflict has a frag pattern. There are good people up and down the command structure that were put in a difficult position. How do they respond to this internal self-contradiction?

That is where you have a whole series of interesting character stories. From the immediate superior in command, first General Officer in the chain of command, the SNCOs, the Junior Officers – and ultimately the recruits themselves. Are they in the right? The wrong? Both?

What lessons do they take away from it all? What do we?

NB: If you are interested in the environment all this took place in, and you have the stomach for the After School Special nature of some of it, you can find the redacted Command Investigation here.

UPDATE: If you want more detail and a rather sad showing of “feelings vs. facts” and leadership by DEOMI survey and investigations – click here.



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



Please join us on 12 July 2015 at 5pm (EDT, U.S.) for Midrats Episode 288: “The Between the Ears Challenge”:

Are the growing feelings of crisis, confusion and strategic drift in the national security arena not so much the result of external challenges, but the result of poor thinking and intellectual habits on our part?

Using his article in The National Interest, “The Real Problem with the American Military” as a starting point, our guest for the full hour will be Dakota Wood, Senior Research Fellow on Defense Programs at The Heritage Foundation.

Dakota L. Wood, LtCol USMC (Ret.), Senior Research Fellow for Defense Programs at The Heritage Foundation.

Dakota served two decades in the U.S. Marine Corps. Following retirement, Mr. Wood served as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Most recently, Mr. Wood served as the Strategist for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Special Operations Command.

Mr. Wood holds a Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from the U.S. Naval Academy; a Master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the College of Naval Command and Staff, U.S. Naval War College.

Join the show live if you can or pick it up later by clicking here. You will also be able to find the show later at our iTunes page here.



185x200_q75Alternative title: The News of the Neo-Isolationist Superpower Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

If as Americans we have trouble figuring out from “Lead-From-Behind” to Stryker road rallies, Aegis Ashore, and Abrams to the Baltics what direction we are going concerning international involvement, imagine the confusion we are creating in the halls of our competitors.

Nice PSYOPS plan – intentional or not.

No one can deny that in many areas we have signaled a withdraw under fire in the last six years or so. From the premature exit from Iraq, to the great decoupling in Afghanistan, that gets the headlines. From the Maghreb to the Levant, we also had experienced the strange experiment of “Lead-From-Behind” a concept as disconnected as its results.

There was also the long goodbye from Europe that began with the end of the Cold War, and until the Russians started playing in their near abroad, was drip-by-remaining-drip continuing apace.

2015 put that in the dustbin of history.

In the last year, we have returned to Iraq and Europe. Indeed, we have expanded in critical areas in some subtle but important ways, especially for the maritime services. These recent moves tie in closely with larger programmatic decisions we need to make now.

I want to pick two specific examples of where we are starting to move back in to the world and how these moves should shape our debate. They are subtle, and in many ways echo some of the broader concepts outlined by Jerry Hendrix’s “Influence Squadrons.” Low footprint, modest cost, high flexibility, high return – scalable impact.

Let’s start with the Pacific Pivot first.

Darwin, Australia; never will be a hard-fill set of orders. Show the flag, build partnerships, and presence in a primary SLOC that, to no surprise, has the most critical choke point in China’s maritime silk road within … err … range;

“My priority right now would be, we’ve got over a thousand Marines in Australia; I would like them to have routine access right now to a platform that they can use to conduct engagement in the area,” he continued.
“But it isn’t just about one ship and it’s just not about one location; it’s about dealing with a logistics challenge, a training challenge, a warfighting challenge in the Pacific with a shortfall of platforms.”

Ideally, in the future PACOM would have two ARGs deployed throughout the theater instead of today’s one-ARG presence. But Dunford said the Marines have to handle today’s problems with today’s resources, so the Marines are looking into a variety of non-amphibious platforms that could carry Marines around the Pacific and elsewhere in the world.

OK, there is your Pacific Pivot, but what is going on in Europe?

U.S. and Spanish officials yesterday signed an amendment to the nations’ defense agreement that will change the deployment of the U.S. crisis response force at Moron Air Base from temporary to permanent, defense officials said today.

In the State Department’s Treaty Room, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Spanish Deputy Foreign Minister Ignacio Ybanez signed the Third Protocol of Amendment to the U.S.-Spanish Agreement for Defense and Cooperation.

The amendment, when the Spanish parliament approves it, will make permanent the temporary deployment of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response at Moron Air Base.

Nice bit of kit for a variety of uses. Knowing how hard the Army has tried since 1919 to keep Marines out of continental Europe – well played;

SPMAGTF-CR-AF is a rotational contingent of approximately 800 Marines, sailors and support elements sourced from a variety of Marine Corps units to include II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Its organic assets include 12 MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, four KC-130J Hercules aerial refueling tankers, one UC-35, a logistics and sustainment element, and a reinforced company of infantry Marines.

How do we hedge expanding a footprint while capabilities shrink? Start by thinking.

Our traditional amphibious ship shortfall is well known, but with the budgetary pressures and need to recapitalize our SSBN force through the Terrible 20s, there simply is not enough money to have it all. Knowing that – what can we do?

There are other areas we can look for capability relief, and the last month has seen good ideas addressing both.

First, though few in number, our partner nations have usable ships;

Where some nations are game to contribute at sea, but they may not be game to go ashore (like the Canadians and British at Iwo Jima) – so why not use what they have available?

Among the concepts the Marines are trying out now is putting U.S. Marine Corps units onto NATO allies’ ships. Allies including Spain and Italy already host SPMAGTF units on the ground, and “the Allied Maritime Basing Initiative is designed to cover gaps in available U.S. amphibious ships by leveraging our European allies’ ships, just as we leverage our allies’ land bases,” U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe & Africa spokesman Capt. Richard Ulsh told USNI News.

“Ideally, we would partner with our Navy brethren to provide a year-round, day and night crisis response force. However, with more requirements world-wide than available U.S. Navy amphibious ships, the Marine Corps has had to adopt a land-based deployment model from allied countries such as Spain, Italy, and Romania,” he said. Having these units land-based, however, means they are limited to operating in a hub-and-spoke model and deploying only as far as their MV-22 Osprey and KC-130J tanker combination will take them.

Operating from a ship not only offers a mobile home base, but “basing at sea offers allies and international partners a visible deterrent when a warship – be it American, British, Italian, Spanish, or French – with U.S. Marines embarked aboard is sitting off the coast. In any language, such a sight means it is best to not cause trouble here,” Ulsh added.

Marines will first head to sea on an Italian ship this fall, followed by a British amphib and eventually French, Spanish and Dutch ships, the Marine Corps Times reported.

Also, not just JHSV, but other USNS are there for the pondering. What kind of USNS might be useful?

We can look back;

MSC’s two aviation logistics ships — S.S. Wright and S.S. Curtiss. Six hundred-and-two feet long, displacing 24,000 tons fully loaded, the twin loggies each boasts a large helicopter landing pad, multiple cranes and a full-length cargo hold opening onto ramps on its sides and stern. With a crew of just 41, each of the vessels can accommodate more than 360 passengers.

While less tough than dedicated amphibs and totally lacking defensive weaponry, under the right circumstances the aviation logistics ships could embark potentially hundreds of Marines and their vehicles plus thousands of tons of supplies. Joining other specialized ships, the loggies could help send the Leathernecks ashore to invade an enemy, defend an ally or help out following a natural disaster.

… and now;

The Navy accepted delivery of the first Afloat Forward Staging Base, USNS Lewis B. Puller(MLP-3/AFSB-1), two weeks ago, and though the ship was built to support mine countermeasures efforts, the Marines have been eyeing the new platform for operations in the Gulf of Guinea in Western Africa. Currently, the closest presence the Marines have to the Gulf is a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) operating out of Spain.

“The combatant commander from AFRICOM and the combatant commander from EUCOM have already written a letter to the secretary of defense outlining their requirement for an alternative platform” to support theater security cooperation, embassy evacuations, counter-piracy missions and more, Dunford said.
“They recognize that while a Special Purpose MAGTF provides a great capability, and while the V-22 does mitigate” the great distance between Spain and southern parts of Africa, having Marines on American ships allows more freedom to operate as needed and to sustain the force from the sea without becoming dependent on partners.

That is just what the Navy-Marine Corp team is doing. Our sister services are busy too.

So much for our inevitable retreat. What next? Well, step one might be to reactivate Maritime Prepositioning Squadron One we decommissioned in 2012.

World changes; change with it.



As reported by the Washington Post on June 4th – “Hackers working for the Chinese state breached the computer system of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in December, US officials said Thursday, and the agency will notify about 4 million current and former federal employees that their personal data may have been compromised.”

ig_logoWhat is OPM? The organization that collects, collates and manages all the security clearance information for US personnel. That includes biographical details about the people in the US government who hold security clearances.

This is the single biggest US security breach since at least the Cold War, although I am personally struggling to think of anything directed against the US that approaches this scale. You can change access codes, passwords and encryption standards in a compromised computer system fairly easily but once the names and biographical details of everyone who holds a clearance are stolen by a rival nation for nefarious purposes … that’s a whole different ballgame.

The identity of the Watchers at NSA, CIA and the Pentagon are now likely known to the Chinese military. Some of these individuals will be the target of Chinese surveillance operations ranging from spear phishing emails to physical shadowing. In war time they may actually become targets for kinetic operations. American spies used to be able
to watch the Iranians, Chinese and Russians secure in the knowledge that they could observe without putting themselves at risk of detection. That era – the era of the American Panopticon – is over.

Update June 25th, 2015: Its possible that the number of affected could be as high as 18 million.

 



Midshipmen have a hunger to learn and to exert ourselves intellectually. We want our lectures to simulate the level of in-depth analysis that will be expected of us in the Fleet.

We are second-class midshipmen at the US Naval Academy who, after eight combined semesters of 20-credit course loads, want more out of the Academy’s academic mission. We believe that the academic curriculum should remain challenging, but that it can be tailored with an emphasis on developing midshipmen into problem solvers. We understand there is currently a conversation in the upper echelons of Navy leadership about reenergizing the Naval Academy curriculum. We offer our opinions to provide experience-based input into these discussions.

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The Naval Academy’s “Tecumseh Court”

Consider what many midshipmen perceive as one of the most mundane courses at the Naval Academy: navigation. Imagine if instead of passively listening to the lecture, our weekly assignment includes perusing the New York Times, selecting hotspots around the world that will likely elicit a US Navy presence. What Numbered Fleet claims responsibility for this area?
What capabilities do we have to respond? Logistically, how is the response executed? What grand strategy is associated with this response? What are the responsibilities on a junior officer level? Lessons are most engaging when the instructors are able to incorporate their own Fleet experiences to illustrate the relevance of the course material. The navigation instructors have the experience to take our thinking to the next level.

Integration of practical skills, professional knowledge, and complex international relations is key to engaging midshipmen in a productive manner. The majority of students sulk through the seamanship and navigation program uninspired and apathetic. Let’s revitalize these core classes to provoke thought and excitement about their future responsibilities as Navy and Marine Corps officers.

This renaissance can extend to the entire core curriculum, to include not only social sciences but also courses in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). The academic culture of the Academy is currently no different than any other civilian college or university, where the core knowledge is learned in order to pass the class and to graduate. As future officers, these courses have the potential to not only give us baseline proficiency in the sciences, but to develop us into better problem solvers. Our objective is not to simply learn the material, but to practice a way of thinking representative of Navy and Marine Corps officers. Our core classes ought to have deeper value: developing an analytical thought pattern that will be applied to our future careers. The core does not need to be dry; it should be there to encourage critical thinking in all realms. Both the strategic implications of a surface warfare mission, as in navigation class, and the way we solve our physics problems are related in how we approach a situation.

Academics represent something more than just a grade; they are a critical proving ground for developing the way future officers solve problems and communicate ideas. Instruction at the Naval Academy must challenge midshipmen to think, to ask us the unanswerable questions and require us to defend our conclusion. There is a symbiotic triad between students, faculty and the institution that needs to exist for this atmosphere to be achieved. It is just as much the midshipman’s job to become individually invested in the material as it is for the faculty to stimulate productive discussion and the institution to revamp the curriculum to match the intellectual expectations of the Fleet.

We understand that there is a balance between time demands, quotas from the Fleet, logistical considerations of the curriculum and the egalitarian nature of the Naval Academy. We are not suggesting a heavier academic workload, or that the solution rests with a single group. Our goal is to spark a discussion on how to better foster a culture that produces critical thinkers which is collaborative between midshipmen, faculty, and the institution. By offering an opinion from a midshipman’s perspective, we hope to draw others into the conversation. The first step towards an environment conducive to this culture shift is a dialogue about how to maximize our four years in Annapolis.

Junior officers are expected to be professional problem solvers. The mission of the Naval Academy is to produce the most competent officers. Allow us to better uphold the mission by integrating this mentality into the classroom. To be proficient in this skill set, we need to practice now. Challenge us to think, to learn, and to take a vested interest in our futures as Navy and Marine Corps officers. We will match your level of intellectual intensity.



I encourage you to spend forty-eight minutes of your day listening to author Karl Marlantes talk about war. Many of you are already familiar with his work. For those who are not, here is a short bio: Marlantes is a Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar. After a year at Oxford, he left, joined the Marines, and was then in some of the worst fighting of the

US Marines fighting in Hue, 1968.

US Marines fighting in Hue, 1968.

Vietnam War. He was awarded the Navy Cross for assaulting a hilltop bunker occupied by the NVA. Here is a part of his citation:

“While continuing to function effectively in his primary billet, First Lieutenant Marlantes skillfully combined and reorganized the remaining members of two platoons, and on 6 March initiated an aggressive assault up a hill, the top of which was controlled by a hostile unit occupying well-fortified bunkers. Under First Lieutenant Marlantes’ dynamic leadership, the attack gained momentum which carried it up the slope and through several enemy emplacements before the surprised North Vietnamese force was able to muster determined resistance. Delivering a heavy volume of fire, the enemy temporarily pinned down the friendly unit. First Lieutenant Marlantes, completely disregarding his own safety, charged across the fire-swept terrain to storm four bunkers in succession, completely destroying them. While thus engaged, he was seriously wounded, but steadfastly refusing medical attention, continued to lead his men until the objective was secured, a perimeter defense established, and all other casualties medically evacuated.”

Years later, he wrote Matterhorn — a fictional account of his experiences as a platoon leader in Vietnam. I read his second book, What It Is Like to Go To War, while deployed in 2011. After reading it, I handed my copy to our senior chaplain. As a chaplain that spent considerable time with Marines in Iraq, and seeing some of the worst combat of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I thought he would get something out of it. Two days later he came up to me and asked me if he could keep my copy. He ended up buying me a replacement copy when we pulled into Singapore. It not only spoke to the power of his book, but it was a reminder that books can make an incredible gift.

200px-Matterhorn_(Karl_Marlantes_novel)_cover_art

Recently, Marlantes came to the US Naval War College to speak to the students about war, ethics, his work, and many other topics. He was funny, insightful, and refreshingly honest. One of my friends, when leaving the auditorium, said, “That was one of the best Q&A’s I’ve heard this year.” Marlantes touches on some pertinent yet divisive topics that many of us are debating today: Should there be a draft? How do veterans assimilate back into society? Is it too easy for policy makers to use the military? And many others.

Take some time — watch it.

 

 

 



Midrats on 31 May 2015 at 5pm EDT U..S. is Episode 282: Summer Kick-off Free For All in which we discuss the sea services and other matters in 2015 so far and do a little prognostication about the future. Listeners who may actually know about such things are invited to call in or join us in the chat room. Come on along, it’s just for fun and to educate the hosts.

At the time of this post, the actual show page was not up, but if you click on the link here before show time, it should be there. UPDATE: Link to actual show page is here.

As always, if you can’t listen live, all our shows are available in the Midrats archives here or on iTunes here.



The fifth season of the HBO hit-series Game of Thrones is here! I’m excited, as are millions of die-hard fans across the country. To prepare for the imminent launch, I re-watched all four of the previous seasons, episode by episode. In that first season, an interesting event takes place, where a young man, Jon Snow, is given his duty assignment. He is about to take an oath to serve for life in the Night’s Watch. He has prepared for years to be a Ranger – a fighter and swordsman. Instead he is assigned as a Steward. Jon Snow is crushed. He hasn’t taken the oath of service yet, and he contemplates leaving the Night’s Watch to avoid a life of inglorious servitude as a steward. His friend Sam convinces him to stay, reminding him that service is about more than his own selfish desires. Jon Snow takes the oath later in the episode.

Graduation OathIt brought me back to my own service selection. I dreamed for years and years of becoming a Marine Corps Officer. At the Naval Academy that fateful day in November of 2009, I received troubling news – I had been selected to become a Surface Warfare Officer. Over the years since I have often been asked if I wanted to become a SWO. My standard reply is that it was one of my top six choices. The humor gets me through the moment, and the conversation moves on.

I’m working now at the Academy, preparing to take over as a company officer this summer, just in time for the Plebe Class of 2019 to arrive for I-Day. I am a proud Surface Warfare Officer and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have been to more overseas ports than I can count over two deployments, have navigated tens of thousands of miles at sea, and served with some of the bravest, smartest and most loyal Sailors the world has ever seen.

Much of the conversation within the walls of the Academy frequently turns to an age-old symptom of the institution – cynicism within the Brigade. Midshipmen sometimes complain that they aren’t treated like future naval officers and that they aren’t doing real work to prepare themselves to become the leaders of those fine Sailors and Marines. “I’m going to fly jets, why do I need to learn about buoy systems in the Western Rivers” is just one example. In teaching leadership on the yard, we strive for every class to fight that mentality, to prove to these young Midshipmen that their training is exceptional and that they will be well prepared to lead upon commissioning. Sometimes I fear that we aren’t doing enough, that the Midshipmen are right, and that we are sending our future junior officers to the fleet without the preparation needed to fulfill their duties. For the graduating Midshipmen, winter is coming, and many aren’t ready to handle a sword.

I don’t know entirely where the cynicism comes from, but I have a theory. Everything for these Midshipmen centers around one key event – service selection. Competition is fierce within the Brigade. Classmates vie for position and jossle for rank as if they were in Westeros, the fictional land of Game of Thrones. There are only so many slots for SEALs, Marines, Submariners, Aviators, and today even SWOs. Midshipmen study diligently to get good grades, so that their order of merit is high enough to get the service selection they want. Many spend more effort on good grades to earn that service selection, but in doing so disregard the very skill sets required to be successful naval officers – pro-knowledge is an afterthought and weighted minimally when compared to calculus and chemistry. The drive for service assignment goes beyond academics, of course. They perform with vigor on the PT fields to notch themselves up for the same purpose. Those wanting Marines join the Semper Fi Society, those seeking to become SEALs test themselves and compete against their classmates in arduous screeners.

That day in November, the Firsties learn their fates. Most are overjoyed – a good thing, no doubt. A few feel despair. These are the ones we should worry about. These are the examples that feed the cynicism – working hard may not be enough. These are the few who enter the fleet sullen, downcast and doubtful. These are the ones most unprepared for their future roles, having spent all of their efforts learning about fire team movements and squad assaults instead of honing their shiphandling skills on the YPs. These are the few who, in my opinion, are the least likely to commit themselves to a full career of service and will leave at the earliest opportunity.

Even those who earn their top choice are too hastily prepared for the training to be effective, meaning that the Chief’s Mess, Department Heads, and Commanding Officers are burdened with teaching junior officers skillsets and professional knowledge they should have mastered at the Naval Academy. The unit leadership should be focused on advanced training – on defeating multiple threats simultaneously, mastering complex engineering systems and conditioning our new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants to become outstanding naval leaders. Instead, they are too busy teaching standard commands, basic maintenance protocols and general military socialization.

What if we changed something? What if we moved service selection to the end of Youngster (sophomore) year? By that time, Midshipmen will have been able to establish their grades, competed in screeners, etc., at least enough for the Academy to choose wisely between them. We could move PROTRAMID, a fleet-wide round-robin experience to expose the Midshipmen to the various communities to the end of Plebe year, just like the NROTC currently does, to allow our new Youngsters the opportunity to see what fits them best. Most Plebes know what they want to service select before they climb Herndon, while the rest of the class would have another year to weigh the decision.

This change has several notable benefits. First, it eliminates competition amongst classmates during their junior and senior years, allowing for greater opportunity to hone leadership and professional skills in Bancroft. Second, it provides two full years, instead of a meager four months, for Midshipmen to hone their practical skills, affording them the chance to excel in tactical and technical competence from day one in the fleet. Marine selectees will have two years to practice ground tactics. Aviators have two years to pass IFS, easing the burden on Pensacola and the subsequent stashing of officers on the Yard until flight school begins. SWOs can master navigation and shiphandling before setting foot on the bridge of a destroyer. Third, if we rearrange the course loads, we can eliminate the cynicism that arises from taking courses that Midshipmen see as irrelevant, such as Marine wannabes having to struggle through seamanship and navigation courses. Fourth, and possibly most importantly, it allows Midshipmen a choice. They now know what they will be doing for their careers and if those few who don’t earn what they want choose to leave before signing their commitment papers the next Fall, the fleet will benefit from a drop in uncommitted and unenthusiastic naval officers. If a Midshipman is so disappointed in his or her service assignment, he or she doesn’t have to come back to poison the well back in Bancroft, or worse yet, carry that attitude into the fleet. Furthermore, by encouraging choice, we disrupt cynicism about being treated like children – a Midshipmen knows full-well what he or she is getting into when they sign on the line which is dotted.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently spoke to the brigade about a number of institutional changes aimed at improving talent management and retention. He mentioned that the Academy is already moving towards a system that seeks to match talent to title and is less dependent on class rank. He and his staff clearly understand that change is needed, not only for its effect on the yard but also downrange in the fleet. This proposal provides an avenue for that change, even if it is one of many. In combat, a coordinated simultaneous time-on-top attack is always preferred to a slew of single efforts and I believe that changing the timeframe for service selection is a key weapon in the fight against complacency and cynicism to ensure we maintain the highest level of combat readiness throughout the fleet. Even if our ships rust and our airframes crack, our people must remain sharp and steadfast.

Choice is nobody’s enemy. While I don’t have the same flowing locks and sword skills as Jon Snow, I empathize with his decision. I didn’t want to be a SWO, at least not initially, but my call to service outweighed my selfishness. I figured that if I was going to be a SWO, I would try my damndest to excel at it. Under this proposed change, there will still be plenty of disappointed Midshipmen who put their country before themselves and will accept what they earned with grace and humility. They will remember that service and leadership are what count, not the uniform they wear or the devices on their chest.



American-Flag-Memorial-Day

The American flags whip in the wind as the sun creeps over the grassy horizon. The charcoal sits in reused plastic grocery bags at the end of the driveway. The grass beneath them is soft with early-morning dew.

In parallel, across the country this morning, American flags fly, too. Flowers placed on hallowed graves flutter slightly in the breeze. Mementos of the lives of brave American servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price are still in place on headstones, surrounding the heroes, keeping them company.

Yesterday, as it does by law every year, enacted in the last century, on the last Monday in May, America celebrated Memorial Day. This recognition stems from the Civil War, when compassionate groups of citizens would decorate the graves of soldiers who had died fighting for their cause. It has grown into an annual recognition of all our honored war dead, and a federal holiday that gives many a reprieve from the workweek.

Many use the day for celebration of the freedoms we enjoy, especially as the holiday coincides with long-awaited warm weather in much of America’s broad latitude. They use it as a day to reflect on family and friends, to fill their lives with familiarity and warmth.

Few of us can comprehend, though, the silent heartbreak of those whose loved ones have felt the pain of ultimate sacrifice. Their experience on Memorial Day is markedly different, but it is right and genuine and pure. To love a warrior is the sweetest tragedy; to live their memory the highest privilege.

Yet the great, silent measure of a nation is its remembrance of its heroes on all the other days of the year; not as a boastful measure of bellicose pride, but as an eternal example of highest achievement. Selfless service has long been idealized in words and opinion polls, now manifest in Facebook posts and Instagram memes, but we must do the hard work of living that notion and encouraging our children to live it through our own actions.

To honor and to serve; both are active verbs.



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