It’s nearly impossible for the casual reader to keep up with important military and veteran stories. I follow this stuff for a living, and most days it’s like drinking from a fire hose. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Here are some stories that deserve your attention.
• The United States is ramping up its military presence in Kuwait to 13,500 troops to respond to conflicts in the Persian Gulf region.
The region holds more then half of the world’s oil reserves and over a third of its natural gas so it’s hard to overstate its importance. Once-a-generation turmoil is shaking the Gulf: government change in Egypt; de facto civil war in Syria; nuclear ambitions in Iran; political crisis in Bahrain and on and endlessly on.
• Despite looming troop and budget cuts, the Pentagon’s focus on the Pacific Rim should keep defense dollars flowing into San Diego County for the foreseeable future.
So said the San Diego Military Advisory Council in its annual military economic impact study.
San Diego’s military industrial complex kicks in a tad more than $20 billion into the region’s $177 billion annual economy and is responsible for 311,000 jobs – that’s an amazing one in four San Diego County jobs.
What’s more, that spending is not expected to decline in the near term.
Those worried about sequestration triggering $1 trillion in military cuts shouldn’t be.
Republican and Democrats believe this a winning issue this election year and are no hurry to address it – for now.
• The Pentagon needs to overhaul its combat pay system and reward younger enlisted troops who face the steepest danger with more money.
The current system is a windfall for senior officers and non-commissioned officers often in the rear with the gear — and the AC, TV and Internet. So says the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, a study mandated by Congress every four years. “There is little correlation between exposure to danger and compensation benefits,” concluded the report. It went on to say that Congress and the Defense Department should consider measures to “strengthen the relationship between combat and compensation so that combat compensation more appropriately rewards those service members who face the greatest possibility of being injured or losing their lives as a result of hostile action.” Amen to that.
My question: What took so long?
This has been an issue since the fighting started in 2001 meaning there has been multiple Quadrennial Reviews on military compensation during a decade of fighting. One suggested change would make hostile fire pay higher than imminent danger pay. Policy now sets both at $225 per month. There is no distinction between and infantryman deployed to the most dangerous place in the world and an admin clerk working in the Philippines, Cuba or Greece.
• Navy commanders must soon interview for commanding officer positions.
A blizzard of commanding officer dismissals has stung the Navy in recent years. Many were canned for inappropriate behavior, including several for fraternizing with the help. To end the embarrassment, the chief of naval operations has ordered a novel pilot program. By June 4, 2013, every new commanding officer must go through a new screening process that includes: Passing a written test, receiving an informal evaluation from peers and subordinates and sitting through an oral board.
• The Veterans Affairs Department hopes to cut suicides among veterans by using more video conferencing.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told reporters at a suicide conference in Washington that leveraging telemedicine — and integrating VA and DOD medical records — might reduce the suicide epidemic that’s claiming 18 veterans a day.
In the first 155 days of the year, 154 Iraq and Afghanistan vets killed themselves. Shinseki said the video conferencing would make it easier for vets to literally see doctors. This could be particularly important in East County and other rural areas across the country.
(Rick Rogers has covered defense and veterans issues for nearly 30 years. He hosts Front & Center: Military Talk Radio Sundays, 11 to noon, Pacific Time, on KCBQ AM 1170 (www.kcbq.com). Podcasts at www.DefenseTracker.com. Contact him at (760) 445-3882 or Rick.Rogers@defensetracker.com)