Tag Archives: military retirement

Transitions: Looking at My Last Few Months in the Military


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This week begins my transition from over 38 years of military service in the Army and Navy to the civilian world. My relief will arrive and for the next couple of weeks I will help him during the transition. Since I will be excess to the command and will not want my ghost hanging over him I am going to ask to be placed on temporary duty at the Joint Forces Staff College until my retirement in the spring of 2020. He deserves not to have his predecessor hanging around as he takes over, and I need to be in a place where I can launch myself into the civilian world without being the old guy in the way of the man entrusted with taking over my responsibilities, a man who is a friend.

I think that will be better for both of us. It will help my transition to the civilian world and will allow him to not have my shadow lurking around his shoulders as I make my transition. The academic world is much better for me and my future than just hanging around where I am no longer needed.  One has to understand when their time is up. I know that. Hopefully, my superiors will understand.

Anyway, Sunday and Monday I will be parting and preparing to move  my  work office to home. It will be a lot of work. I thank you for your encouragement, support, and prayers. All of my readers mean a great deal to me, and I wish you all the best.

Peace,

Padre

 

 

 

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“After You Hurt the Knee it isn’t as Fun…” Padre Steve Deals With More Knee Injuries

I Don’t Know if I will be Able to Climb Little Round Top Again

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I went to bed a bit down because of the unexpected death of my friend Mitch. But, I was also thinking about ways I could try to get back into shape as I awaited a consult from the Sports Medicine Doctor to the orthopedic surgeon who did the arthroscopic surgery on my left knee. Physical therapy on Tuesday had gone well and because I have been doing so well I stopped using a cane or crutch to stabilize me as I walked. I thought I was making progress.

To a certain extent I was, my left knee and leg were getting stronger, despite the fact that my right knee has not responded to the non-surgical Platelet Rich Plasma and Gel injection treatments given over the past two and a half months. But I had also not taken as seriously as I should the continued pain and weakness in the right knee, and the fact that it has been buckling on me of late. My sports medicine doctor told me that it looked like something other than osteoarthritis was the cause of my right knee problems, my kneecap feels loose and the doctor thinks something may be going on underneath the patella.

I knew I had physical therapy today and was looking forward to more improvements. Then the unexpected happened. My right knee buckled and gave out as I was walking down the steps from my front porch to the car. I fell in a heap at the bottom of the steps, my left knee landed hardest on the concrete walkway while my right knee hit the bricks in our planter, but that was a glancing blow. My left ankle feels like it has a mild sprain, the right foot has a lot of pain on the top of the foot below the ankle. I have no idea what is going on with it. My left knee hurts worse than before or after my surgery.

I wondered if I should wake up Judy and have her take me to the ER or maybe try to get an appointment with my PCM, or just contact the surgeon, and go to physical therapy. I sent an email to the surgeon, contacted the head of the officer retirement section at the Naval Personnel Center, and then went to physical therapy. My physical therapist put me through the paces and it was agonizing. She, a civilian, also warned me in a stern voice: “Sir, if I ever hear of you walking around without using a cane or crutch, I will kick your ass…” I believe her.

By the time I got back to the office from physical therapy I had heard back from the man at NPC who recommended that I modify or cancel my current voluntary retirement orders. I also heard back from my surgeon’s nurse. All agreed that I should request that the retirement orders be cancelled and a new request submitted for my mandatory date of my 60th birthday in late March.

That was something I had began to expect when I got word from the Sports Medicine doctor that there was something else wrong with my right knee other than osteoarthritis, which I suspected back last August when I fell down my stairs. I always knew I had arthritis in my knees but it was mild and never interfered with any of my physical activities. The only times the knees hurt before that fall was in cold damp weather. After that it has been difficult. Despite the fact that I didn’t have a torn meniscus in my right knee it constantly hurt worse than the left knee, I held out hope that the non-surgical procedures would make the difference.

So I emailed my Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, and Regional Chaplain to explain what I am going to have to do. All were sympathetic and tomorrow I will submit my request through my Commanding Officer, and on to NPC where it will need to be approved. The head of the officer retirement branch doesn’t think it will be a problem. If It gets approved I can probably get the treatments/ surgeries that help me recover.

This is a disappointment. I really was looking toward to going on terminal leave, having my retirement ceremony and re-entering the civilian world in September. I don’t like being as crippled as I am. Last year at this time I was walking, power-walking, or running 5 to 15 miles a day, five days a week. I am so discouraged by this, I cannot do anything like that now. Likewise, for me it embarrassing to have to admit that I am physically broken.

I agree with the great New York Jets Quarterback, Joe Namath said:

“After I hurt the knee, football wasn’t nearly as much fun. I was limited. But you make do with what you have. I adjusted some. I was lucky to play as long as I did, with the different kinds of injuries I got. I played with two severed hamstring muscles in my leg late in my career. I could barely run, other than to drop back to pass.”

I fully agree with him. Until last year I have had very few physical injuries that I couldn’t overcome. Perhaps they will be able to fix me before I retire, and I am not one to give up hope or belief that I can get better. I won’t stop trying, because I want to be able to hike 15 to 20 miles in a day, up and down broken terrain and climb Little Round Top at Gettysburg without using the roads.

I’ll keep you informed, so pray for me a sinner,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Walking Anachronism: thoughts on Approaching my 59th Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In two days I celebrate my 59th birthday amid a lot of physical issues regarding and concerns for the future of the country I am reminded that in today’s military I am an anachronism. I’m old, broken, and pretty much useless. I have so many medical and physical therapy appointments that my deputy and other staff pretty much handle everything, and I sign a few things, give them advice and support them.

In the mean time I try to collect the multitude of medical records from the different branches that hold them, and since I am still being treated every so often I have to request the latest bunch. I am sure that I have over 2000 pages of them. Today I organized them. I bought a bunch of those brown accordion file binders, the big ones, hold up to 5 1/2 inches of documents each. I have them dived up into the old handwritten records, the new records in a system called ALTA, which I have no idea what it stands for; of which there are so many that it requires two binders to hold them all; my mental health records, all of which have been occurred since I returned from Iraq in 2008, I have a full binder of those and am waiting on the records from the civilian psychiatrist the Navy sent me to at Camp LeJeune to complete that set as well as the records I continue to compile. I also have a binder of dental records in which I have also placed the CDs of my radiology studies. The whole collection must weigh 25 or 30 pounds, and I have a big bag to carry them around in, it was actually a bag sent back with Judy from the hospital after her first knee replacement surgery.

Last night was tough. I had a bunch of stuff going in my mind about the future of the country under Trump. I couldn’t be in the moment and Judy called me on it. I went to bed early but woke up with my left hip in screaming pain. Of course it was about 4 AM and the dogs decided that they needed to go outside. In agony I hobbled down the stairs and let them out, and after rewarding them I dragged myself up to bed. It still hurts like the devil so I have an early appointment to get it looked at, afterward I get to do physical therapy. The only good thing about it was that it made me forget the pain in my right and left knees and right hip. I am beginning to wonder with all the physical injuries piling up and needing treatment if I will have to have my official retirement date pushed back. Next week I go to the sports medicine doctor who has been working on my right knee, I presume that the next step is sending me to the bone and joint center. Since arthroscopic surgery has already been ruled out the next step will likely be be knee replacement, after which they might get around to my hips and shoulder.

I am a broken down anachronism. Of course once I get repaired I won’t be broken down, but I’ll still be an anachronism. In season five of the series The Blacklist, Raymond Reddington is asked a question by Agent Elizabeth Keane who has been revealed as his daughter:

Liz: How does it feel to be a walking anachronism?

Red: Righteous.

In a way it does, especially when someone asks you out of the blue to tell you your story because it was included in an article that was required reading for a class on Moral Injury at Yale Divinity School. At my point in life there is nothing to embellish, nothing to try to make me look heroic, just tell the truth, warts and all. It is as Reddington described, righteous.

So this anachronism will continue to live, do all I can to get my injuries fixed, and look forward to a future that has been as good or better than my past. Judy helped get that into my head this afternoon when confronting me on my attitude.

In spite of everything I can say I’ve had a great life, a wonderful wife, and over the course of our marriage 6 dogs, three of which live with us and are the light of our lives, and two of the others who make ghost appearances from time to time. The last is obviously too happy in heaven getting her belly rubbed with an infinite supply of puppy cookies.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, life, Loose thoughts and musings, mental health, Military

A Last Drink before Surgery in the Morning

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I lift this stein, an hour and a half before I can neither eat and drink before by arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday I wish you all the best. Sadly, in order to get to the hospital where the surgery will be done I will have to be up way before sunrise. As anyone with any sense knows, the darkness of the morning is God’s way of letting you know you should still be in bed.

I had a great day having lunch with a Navy Chaplain who I now call a friend who I threw a coffee cup at in between missions in Al Anbar Province in 2007. Yes I was already dealing with PTSD back then but didn’t know it. He’s a great guy, and my wife Judy loves his wife as a dear friend. Then this evening I dinner and a couple of beers with a fellow progressive Navy Chaplain of my age who suffers from many of my afflictions and others far worse.

Now, I have every bit of confidence in the surgery that will be conducted on my left knee Thursday, which is like a few hours from now, which is kind of like today if I lived in Germany. But by the time you read this dear reader it will be today, unless you ready it tomorrow or sometime after that, but I digress…

That being said, my right knee, which I had a Platelet Rich Plasma treatment on a week ago still hurts like a motherfucker. If that continues I will probably need a knee replacement which could throw my projected retirement date into doubt. Honestly, I don’t give a flying fuck so long as it gets fixed before I leave active duty and have to surrender valuable private sector work in order to wait on the VA to fix it. Call me selfish and entitled, but after nearly 38 years of throwing my body under the bus for the country I deserve getting it taken care of before I retire and am cast off into the abyss of veteran care.

So anyway. Whenever you read this, lift a pint and say a prayer for me, and those far worse off than me. There are a lot of them, and most are too intimidated by the system to throw the bullshit flag like I have been doing for the past decade. I owe much of this to my military and civilian therapists and psychiatrists who encouraged me as a Chaplain and senior officer to tell the truth and speak out. Sadly, quite a few of the senior officers and Chaplains I have known swallowed the pain and taken their lives, and there were times that I would have done the same if it wasn’t for Judy and our dogs, especially Molly who decided she wanted to live with me in North Carolina during the times I most wanted to die. I couldn’t kill myself because she was so devoted to me. Now I have Izzy, Pierre, and Minnie. Judy would love all of them, but Pierre and Izzy are devoted to me. Strange how things like that keep you alive when nothing else does.

Until tomorrow, have a great night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, mental health, ministry, PTSD, suicide

Back in the USA

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After 18 days of traveling in Germany and the Alsace Region of Eastern France we returned to the United States today.

We have a very good time visiting friends, seeing many historical sites, and getting a chance to clear our heads and refresh ourselves as we go into what promises to be a very busy and stressful time as I go back to work while preparing to retire from the Navy next year. For me that will include managing a religious program while losing most of my enlisted support staff without replacements. That will make things difficult and hard choices may have to be made in terms of what we can support. In such a situation I have to keep my head in the game in order not to let people who depend on my leadership down.

I will also be doing all of the things that have to be done in order to retire, the biggest of which are the medical requirements, making sure that everything is ready for my assessment regarding my VA disability rating which should be pretty high, my GI Bill education benefits, and the beginning of a job search that enables me to make up any difference between what I make on active duty and my retirement/disability income.

In addition within the next couple of months Judy should be having the first of two knee replacement surgeries even as we try to finish up the work we have been doing in our house which we will have to squeeze into whatever time we have.

Over the next week or so I am going to publish articles about our trip and that I haven’t had time to do just yet, some are even in draft form already.

By the way, I have to shave the beard off Wednesday morning before I go to work, but this will be my post retirement look and I will have more time than 18 days to grow it out. Fear the beard.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Armed Forces Day 2015: The Breach of Trust

2015AFDPoster

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill?…“This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….” Major General Smedley Butler USMC

Today is Armed Forces Day and unfortunately most of the country will not notice unless they are attending a Baseball game where it is being observed or some special event on a base, national cemetery, monument or VFW hall. Armed Forces Day was established in 1948 by President Harry Truman after the founding of the Department of Defense.  It was established to honor and remember those currently serving, not the discharged or the retired veteran, they are remembered on Veterans Day, the former Armistice Day, nor the fallen who are commemorated on Memorial Day which we will do next weekend. 

Unlike Veterans Day or Memorial Day there is no national holiday for Armed Forces Day. I find this ironic for a nation which claims to support the troops that the men and women who we honor are honored on a day that unless they are deployed in harm’s way or have duty, is regular day off like any Saturday. Personally I think the day should be celebrated by giving the active duty force a real day off and if they are deployed given some kind of down time as operational needs allow, and maybe even given them a ration of beer. We did this for the Marine Corps birthday in Iraq, so why not on Armed Forces Day? But I digress…

Back when Armed Forces Day was established there was still a draft which meant that in theory everyone had skin in the game and that our leaders were far more hesitant to commit the nation to war. 

Back in 1952 the New York Times editors wrote:

“It is our most earnest hope that those who are in positions of peril, that those who have made exceptional sacrifices, yes, and those who are afflicted with plain drudgery and boredom, may somehow know that we hold them in exceptional esteem. Perhaps if we are a little more conscious of our debt of honored affection they may be a little more aware of how much we think of them.”

But sadly today in all honesty were think very little of them. Today of course there will be a fair number of local celebrations to honor members of the Armed Forces across the country, but for the most part they will be small and not well publicized. Most of the people I attendance will not even be there for the troops. They will be there for the event and their hearts will be warmed by the tributes paid to the troops. As a career officer and son of a Vietnam veteran Navy Chief I appreciate those events and at least some of the good hearted the people that put them together. Being a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, especially those that have taken the time to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans like me who have returned from war totally fucked up. But again I digress, badda bing, badda boom, badda bomb…

Bu here is what really s upsetting to me, good number of these patriot, flag waving, war porn satiating, yet somehow inspiring ceremonies to honor the troops are not even coming for the heart of the people putting them on. I steady they are coming out of the Pentegon budget and being paid for by the taxpayers. These events are nothing more than faux patriotism and little more than propaganda that exploits the troops. They are being done as a recruiting tool with the Department of Defense which is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the tax exempt National Football League and its teams to put on shows that give all the appearances of honoring the troops but are really nothing more than propaganda and recruiting commercials. Likewise for all which for all the money we the taxpayers spend on them actually net few recruits if any as a huge number of our current troops are the sons and daughters of men and women who have also served this country. They, like I do, do this for something greater than partisan politics  greater than money, greater than anything that can easily be repaid, the love of this country and the principles found in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. However, that is fodder for another article. 

But honestly I am so offended by this faux  patriotism shown by the NFL and God knows who else that it causes me a great deal of anger. I say this because throughout our nation’s history our political leaders, business leaders and the populace as a whole have despised the military, and those who in the absence of a draft chose to serve. That despicable attitude was well recounted in Herman Wouk’s monumental novel, which became a classic film The Caine Mutiny. In the film a defense attorney for those accused of mutiny, Barney Greenwald played to perfection by Jose Ferrer told the acquitted mutineers of the Caine’s wardroom:

“You know something…when I was studying law, and Mr Keefer here was writing his stories, and you, Willie, were tearing up the playing fields of dear old Princeton,method was standing guard over this fat dumb happy country of ours, eh? Not us. Oh no, we knew you couldn’t make any money in the service. So who did the dirty work for us? Queeg did! And a lot of other guys. Tough, sharp guys who didn’t crack up like Queeg.” 

For those who are now getting pissed off at me, let us look at facts. At any given time less than 1% of Americans are serving in all components of the military. For over 13 years we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other locations that we don’t like to talk about too much. However this has not been the effort of a nation at war, it is the war of a tiny percentage of the population, a segment that everyone is far too willing to exploit. 

As a nation we are disconnected from the military and the wars that the military fights. The fact is that most Americans do not have a personal or vested interest in these wars, they have been insulated by political leaders of both parties from them. There is no draft, and no taxes were raised to fund the wars and the military is now worn out.

We have been at war for nearly 14 years and truthfully there is no end in sight. In that time every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman volunteered for duty or reenlisted during this time period. Motives may have varied from individual to individual, but unlike the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam every single one volunteered to serve in time of war. I think that this makes the current generation of veterans quite unique in our modern history, but not so different than the professionals who served before and after the Civil War,and  those who served before and after the First World War. The situation after the Second Wolrd War and the Cold War required a large standing military and large reserve force. This required the draft, which though hated by many  leavened the professional force with civilians who got a taste of military and when they left did not forget they meaning of their service and the sacrifices made by the professionals. We do not have that anymore. We are no longer are no longer a military composed of citizen soldiers. We who serve,  even in our reserve components are  a Warrior caste, set apart from the society that we serve.

There is a tragic disconnection between the military and civilian society in the United States. This is the result of deliberate public policy since the end of the Vietnam War supported by both political parties. For almost 40 years we have relied on an all volunteer force. It is that relatively small and socially isolated military which is sent to fight wars while the bulk of the population is uninvolved and corporations, lobbyists and think tanks get rich.

Andrew Bacevich wrote in his new book Breach of Trust: How Americans failed their Soldiers and their Country:

“Rather than offering an antidote to problems, the military system centered on the all-volunteer force bred and exacerbated them. It underwrote recklessness in the formulation of policy and thereby resulted in needless, costly, and ill-managed wars. At home, the perpetuation of this system violated simple standards of fairness and undermined authentic democratic practice. The way a nation wages war—the role allotted to the people in defending the country and the purposes for which it fights—testifies to the actual character of its political system. Designed to serve as an instrument of global interventionism (or imperial policing), America’s professional army has proven to be astonishingly durable, if also astonishingly expensive. Yet when dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan, it has proven incapable of winning. With victory beyond reach, the ostensible imperatives of U.S. security have consigned the nation’s warrior elite to something akin to perpetual war.”

Bacevich, a retired Army Colonel and Vietnam veteran who lost a son in Iraq is dead on, as is Rachel Maddow who wrote in her outstanding book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power:

“The reason the founders chafed at the idea of an American standing army and vested the power of war making in the cumbersome legislature was not to disadvantage us against future enemies, but to disincline us toward war as a general matter… With citizen-soldiers, with the certainty of a vigorous political debate over the use of a military subject to politicians’ control, the idea was for us to feel it- uncomfortably- every second we were at war. But after a generation or two of shedding the deliberate political encumbrances to war that they left us… war making has become almost an autonomous function of the American state. It never stops.” 

The lobbyists, pundits, politicians, preachers and war profiteers that promote war don’t care about the troops. When they say they do they are lying out their asses. This is because no matter who is in office or who controls congress these people and corporations will promote policies that keep them employed and their businesses enriched. Marine Major General and Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler was quite right when he said:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

I think that the reason that our current wars have gone on so long is the that misguided policies have brought about a chronic disconnection in our society between those that serve in the military. But how can there not be when in the weeks after 9-11 people like President Bush and others either directly or in a manner of speaking told people to “go shopping” * as we went to war in Afghanistan? When I returned from Iraq I returned to a nation that was not at war whose leaders used the war to buttress their respective political bases.

The results are terrible. Suicide rates are continuing to rise among veterans who have returned to find that neither the VA nor the civilian mental health care sector is prepared to care for them. Even worse the members of the GOP controlled Congress are working their asses off to screw the troops. Ohio GOP Congressman, Tea Party favorite,  supposedly deeply committed Christian and even worse a Colonel in the Ohio Army National Guard has attempted and is attempting again to attach an Ammendment to the 2016 Nation Defense Authorization Act which would keep the Defense Department from enformice rules which would protect young troops from the predatory payday lenders who line the avenues leading to every major military base in the country. My opinion, this man is a traitor to the country even though he wears the uniform and has deployed and led soldiers in in Iraq and other locations during this war. He is selling out the the young troops to protect the payday lending industry with which has had a nearly incestuous relationship since he day that was elected to Congress. 

But Congressman Stivers is not alone, Congressmen and women of both parties sell out the troops to prop up banks, insurance companies and Wall Street. Those military health benefits not directly provided in military medical centers are run through an organization called Tricare. Tricare, which is managed by the insurance companies who bid on competitive contracts is a for profit industry. These insurance companies routinely deny services to the families of military members, pay so little or are so mind numbingly  incompetent that many medical providers refuse to deal with them, leaving the troops their families stuck in the middle. That my friends is fact. Now the GOP led by the Koch brothers is attempting to privatize Veterans Admisistration Heath care. Now in all honesty, the chronically underfunded and bureaucratically bound VA. That being said my friends privatization will only make things worse for veterans who will now have to deal with private for profit insurance companies and Heath care systems that see them and their wounds and infirmaries as a way to make a buck off of taxpayer and to screw the veteran. 

But let’s not stop there. Politicians and their backers from the financial sectors have been working overtime since the Adminstration of George W. Bush to roll back retirement benefits which they call  “entitlements” which are supposedly destroying the financial health and well being of the nation. Never mind the fact that these same  politicians have spent trillions of dollars bailing out the corporations which have almost single handed lay destroyed this nation’s economy time after time since the 1970s, and who support corporations who are based in this country but have sold the nation out and work against the interests of Americans. 

But never mind, I digress, for as we all know it is the troops who are the leches who are bankrupting the country. 

But this isn’t new my friends it began during the Reagan Administration which changed the retirement system from the flat 50% of one’s final active duty pay that one would retire with at 20 years of service or high multiples up to 75% at 30 years to an average of the last three, or the highest three years of pay that one earned while on active duty.  In effect the Reagan Adminstration robbed military retest of hundreds of thousand of dollars of hard earned benefits. But again the beloved Saint Ronald loved the troops, after all he said so. 

Likewise, did you know that some GOP legislators want to cut the disability payments to military members who have been wounded or injured during their service?  You probably didn’t and you won’t find that fact out on Fox News or CNN. This is not to be confused with the retirement benefits that they are looking to cut.  This my friends is the debt of honor  that this nation owes to the men and women who have given everything and now are broken in body, mind and spirit. But then those who promote such policies, even those who have worn the uniform like Congressman Stivers have no honor. Like those that sold out the Union veterans after the Civil War and the Doughboys after World War One they are much more indebted to their political benefactors than they are to te troops no matter what they say. 

Now I do believe 

Armed Forces Day should be better celebrated and I am grateful to the people that do things every day to thank and support military personnel. These wonderful people that do this come from across the political spectrum. Some are veterans and others non-veterans. But they care for and appreciate the men and women that serve in and fight the wars that no-one else can be bothered to fight.

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Of course the politicians, pundits, preachers and the defense contractors, banks and lobbyists will find a way to profit. They will do so no matter how many more troops are killed, wounded or injured and how badly it affects military personnel or their families and will push to abandon those who fought as they do after every war. After all, to quote Smedley Butler, “war is a racket.”  So fuck them all, and if there is a just God and there is a Hell, I hope that they end up there, especially the preachers who tomorrow will invite the troops to their churches to supposedly honor them even as they support the politicians whose policies damn the very troops that they honor tomorrow. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

President Bush’s actually words were “Now, the American people have got to go about their business. We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t — where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop…” http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011011-7.html

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Follow the Money: The Real Motives behind those Seeking to Radically Change the Military Retirement System

The Military Times put it on the Front Page last Week: Wednesday Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced at the National Defense University that no changes were coming soon. Despite that Military personnel should be on guard as the Defense Business Board continues to push for retirement changes that are bad for the service member, bad for keeping the best people in the military but that are great for Wall Street and Defense Contractors

There is much talk amid the current debate on the National Debt and the budget crisis of changing the military retirement system.  Of course the argument now being used by the most fervent advocates of change is that military retirement is a “rich entitlement program” which is draining the Defense Budget and keeping us from buying weapons, to quote Defense Business Board member Richard Spencer “What are you going to trade off — a rich entitlements program, or boots and bullets for the troops?”

Now on the surface that seems logical but in truth it is simply a way for American business and financial corporations to gain control of military retirement for their own gain.  The way they propose is to eliminate the current program and institute a 401K based system as used in many businesses.  However they fail to mention that military service in time of war, which if anyone hasn’t noticed we have been at for 10 years is quite different than working in the civilian world, the little things like long deployments, family separation and need I say getting shot at by bad guys and watching your friends and comrades be killed our maimed do tend to make military service more arduous than 99% of those that work in the civilian world.

The ideas put out by the Defense Business Board gut the military retirement system.  These plans are not in any sense of the word an “overhaul” of the system but a complete scrapping of a system that has worked.  The members of the board seem to believe that the problem with the military budget is that military personnel make too much money and that their retirement if they get to 20 years is breaking the budget.  The members of the board blame cutbacks in weapons systems on the personnel budget ignoring that most of the weapons systems cancelled or cut back were due to the massive cost overruns charged by defense contractors and the failure of those contractors to deliver the systems that they promised on time on budget or for that matter operational.

That list includes the grounded F-22 Raptor of the Air Force, the mechanically challenged LPD-17 San Antonio class amphibious ships, the under armed, undermanned and corrosion prone Littoral Combat ships which are actually two distinctly different classes of ship increasing the cost of the project.  Then there is the FA-35 Joint Strike Fighter which is way over budget and far behind schedule and despite all efforts none are in operational units yet and those in test units were grounded last week.  The Marine Corps lost the much touted but never produced Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the planned replacement for its Assault Amphibian Vehicle when the troubled and expensive program was cancelled by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  The Army had to cancel their Future Combat Systems Manned Vehicle project in 2009.  The list can go on and on and on all the while the contractors that were involved made a mint off of the military.  Much was due to the fact that all of these systems were over budget, behind schedule and often under performing what they were designed to do.

Something else that the Defense Business Board ignores is the massive cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the money being paid to civilian defense contractors such as Halliburton, Kellogg Brown and Root, the former Blackwater and hundreds of other players in the dash for Defense Department cash. They also fail to mention that the financial industry which a number of heavy hitters on the board represent ran our and the world economy onto the rocks back in 2008.

The Defense Business Board was established by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2001.  All of the members are appointed by the Secretary of Defense and all of the current board members were appointed by Rumsfeld or Robert Gates.

So who are the members of this board and who do they work for?

John B. Goodman, Chairman: Serves as managing director of the U.S. Defense portfolio for Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company.

Mark H. Ronald, Vice Chairman: As senior advisor to Veritas Capital Management is a private equity fund that invests in a broad range of middle market companies through buyouts, growth capital investments, and leveraged recapitalizations. Veritas Capital invests in companies that provide outsourced services to the government – primarily in the areas of defense and aerospace, security, and infrastructure. It has also earned a reputation as a niche defense investor and for turning around troubled defense contractors.

Fernando Amandi: The former Chief Operating Officer for Citibank Consumer Bank International inLatin America, President of Motorola International Network Ventures based in London, England and Senior Vice President and General Manager of the American Express Consumer Financial Services Division in Latin America.  At present, he is the President of Fanta Real Estate Investments, LLC.  He served for 6 years as an enlisted member of the Florida Army National Guard.

Owsley Brown II: Retired chairman and CEO of Brown-Forman Corporation. He served from 1966 to 1968 as an Army intelligence officer at the Pentagon.

Pierre A. Chao: Managing Partner and co-founder of Renaissance Strategic Advisors. The company website gives this description “Renaissance Strategic Advisors is focused on the global defense, space, government services, homeland security and commercial aerospace market. Our clients are typically senior decision makers at the Board of Directors, CEO, CFO, sector president or investment partner level. We work with firms up and down the value chain, from component manufacturers to prime contractors to private equity/venture capital firms. Our clients span the full life cycle from early stage startup firms to industry leaders.”

Patrick W. Gross: Chairman of  the Lovell Group, a private investment and advisory firm, where he works with a portfolio of venture capital backed private technology and internet commerce companies. He is currently a director of four public companies: Capital One Financial Corporation, Career Education Corporation, Liquidity Services, Inc., and Mobius Management Systems, Inc. In the 1960’s he worked in the Pentagon as one of “McNamara’s Whiz Kids.”

Lon Levin: President of Sky Seven Ventures, which works with, helps manage, and invests in new technology companies, particularly space-based businesses, including Sentinel Satellite (CEO), Transformational Space (Chief Strategic Officer), Slacker Radio (Senior Advisor to CEO and Board), Integral Systems, Terrestar Networks, and Near Earth LLC.

Bonnie Cohen: A consultant specializing in management and financial issues.  Ms. Cohen serves on the Board of Cohen & Steers Mutual Funds, a $20 billion dollar family of mutual funds. Ms. Cohen is a member of the Cosmos Club and on the Endowment Investment Committee.

Mel M. Immergut: Chairman of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP “a global law firm, with approximately 550 lawyers who provide a full range of financial and business legal services to many of the world’s leading financial, industrial and commercial enterprises, as well as governments, institutions and individuals.”

Edward A. Powell Jr.: President and CEO of the USO World Headquarters.

David H. Langstaff: President & Chief Executive Officer TASC, Inc. A technology and intelligence services a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman and Litton industries, both major Defense contractors.

Phil Odeen: Non-executive Chairman of AES, an international energy company and Convergys, a leading outsourcing company.  Convergys is one of the leading firms that help companies in the United States and  Western Europe outsource jobs overseas.

Arnold Punaro: Chief executive officer of the Punaro Group, LLC, a Washington-based firm offering government relations, strategic planning, federal budget and market analysis, communications, crisis and emergency management, business development and sensitive operations consulting.  Punaro retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a Major General and unlike the rest of the board served in combat as a Rifle Company Platoon Commander where he was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart Medal.  He was mobilized for the Gulf War, the Bosnia operations and again at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom.  Since his retirement he has been a consistent critic of the military retirement system.

Richard Spencer: Managing Director of Fall Creek Management LLC a privately held management consulting company. He was the former Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer of Intercontinental Exchange, Inc. (NYSE-ICE) which according to its website “operates leading regulated exchanges, trading platforms and clearing houses serving global markets for agricultural, credit, currency, emissions, energy and equity index markets. ICE operates three futures exchanges including London-based ICE Futures Europe, which hosts trading in half of the world’s crude and refined oil futures contracts traded each day. ICE Futures U.S. and ICE Futures Canada list agricultural, currency and Russell Index futures and options markets. ICE also provides trade execution, processing and clearing services for the over-the-counter (OTC) energy and credit derivatives markets.”  Spencer served as a Marine Corps Aviator from 1976-1981.

Bobby Stein: President of the Regency Group, a family holding company located in Jacksonville,Florida. The Regency Group has invested in many businesses including the water, sewer and waste, real estate, mortgage service, and fast food industries.

Robert I. Toll: is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Toll Brothers, Inc., the leading builder of luxury homes

Atul Vashistha: Founder & Chairman, neoIT Founder & Chairman, NEOGROUP. According to the Defense Business Board website he is “a leading proponent and practitioner of globalization and futurizing enterprises. He is recognized globally as one of the leading advisors on globalization and outsourcing. He founded Neo Group (Formerly neoIT) in 1999 with the mission of helping enterprises grow their business and improve operations by leveraging outsourcing and globalization. Neo also advises government and trade bodies on how to be better destinations for outsourcing. Neo also help enterprises manage and monitor supply relationships, risks and governance.”

Kevin Walker: Chief Operating Officer of Iberdrola USA a public utility company and subsidiary company of the Spanish Electric Company Iberdrola. Walker is a 1985 graduate of theUnited States Military Academy and served as a Field Artillery Officer from 1985-1991 including a tour during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Joe Wright: Senior Advisor to the Chart Group, L.P. which is a merchant banking firm investing in both venture and growth capital companies that also provides senior level advice and capital access to corporate clients. According to the company website it “is a merchant banking firm organized in 1994 to sponsor alternative investments and provide discreet, senior level advice and capital access to corporate clients.”

Jack Zoeller: Chairman and CEO of Bank of Virginia, a subsidiary of  which he co-founded in 2009 to bring new capital and management to troubled community banks in the Eastern U.S. He has also served as CEO of Cordia Bancorp, Capital Risk Management Corporation, ComFed Bancorp Incorporated, North American Company Health and Life Insurance Company, and AtlantiCare Risk Management Corporation.  Zoeller is a Military Academy graduate and former Infantry Officer who served with the 82nd Airborne Division.

John Hamre Chairman of the Defense Advisory Board and Chairman of the Defense Science Board serve in an ex-officio status.

Senior Fellows:

Neil F. Albert: President and CEO of MCR, LLC, a company specializing in management consulting, business analysis and forecasting, and information systems.

Barbara Barrett: Former Ambassador to Finland until 2009.  She is an international business and aviation attorney. CEO of Triple Creek Guest Ranch, a Montana Hideaway resort.

Denis Bovin: Co-Chairman and Co-CEO of Stone Key Partners LLC, a strategic and financial advisory investment bank which “offers mergers and acquisitions advisory services.” Prior to forming Stone Key Partners, Mr. Bovin was Vice Chairman –Investment Banking, Senior Managing Director and Chairman of the Global Technology, Media and Telecom Group at Bear Stearns & Co. He was a member of the team that directed Bear Stearns’ Investment Banking activities and had direct responsibility for a wide variety of the Firm’s key domestic and international investment banking clients.

Frederic W. Cook: Founding Director of Frederic W. Cook & Co., an independent consulting firm providing advice to corporate boards and compensation committees on executive compensation matters.  The company website says that they provide “consulting assistance to corporations in order to develop compensation programs for senior executives, key employees, and board of directors.” Prior to forming the firm in 1973, Fred was a principal in Towers, Perrin, Forster & Crosby, a firm which he joined in 1966 following four years of service as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Madelyn Jennings: A Founder of the Cabot Advisory Group, President of the McGregor Links Foundation, and Co-Chair of the Executive Committee of the Freedom Forum. She is the retired Senior Vice President of Personnel at the Gannett Co., the largest newspaper company in the U.S., publisher of USA TODAY. Previously she was Vice President of Human Resources at Standard Brands Inc.

Jim Kimsey: Created America Online, Inc. He currently serves as Chairman Emeritus. He attended theUnited StatesMilitaryAcademy atWest Point.  He served three combat tours as an airborne ranger, two in Vietnam, earning various awards for service and valor.


William R. Phillips: Principal in Charge of KPMG’s Federal Advisory unit, located inMcLean,Virginia. In this role he is responsible for the development and execution of the unit’s business strategy, client services and business operations. His team supports clients across the Federal Government, representing most all agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Energy, Defense, and Homeland Security, in addition to the intelligence community. Services include financial management improvement, strategy, IT security and internal controls, and supply chain management. Prior to joining KPMG, Mr. Phillips was a Vice President at IBM responsible for their services to the global defense community.  While Mr. Phillips was not involved his company KPMG has been the focus of several major criminal and civil investigations. In early 2005, theUnited States member firm, KPMG LLP, was accused by the United States Department of Justice of fraud in marketing abusive tax shelters. KPMG LLP admitted criminal wrongdoing in creating fraudulent tax shelters to help wealthy clients avoid $2.5 billion in taxes and agreed to pay $456 million in penalties in exchange for a deferred prosecution agreement. KPMG LLP would not face criminal prosecution if it complied with the terms of its agreement with the government. On January 3, 2007, the criminal conspiracy charges against KPMG were dropped.

Dov S. Zakheim: Senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at the CNA Corporation a non-profit research organization that operates the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Public Research. Previously he was Senior Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton, where he was a leader in the Firm’s global defense practice. During the 2000 presidential campaign, he served as a senior foreign policy advisor to then-Governor Bush. From 2001 to April 2004 he was Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Defense.  He chairs the National Intelligence Council’s International Business Practices Advisory Panel, and is a member of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Defense Business Board, which he helped establish.

Consultants:

John M. B. O’Connor: Chairman of J.H. Whitney Investment Management, LLC, which according to its website “pursues high absolute risk adjusted returns in a limited number of highly specialized investment strategies in the public markets. Our specific areas of excellence are Asian markets, Global Commodity and Macro markets, the US Equity Volatility complex and US Small Capitalization deep value equities.”

Leigh Warner: Senior Advisor to business leaders and government officials.  Her biography on the DBB website is very vague as to what corporations that she worked for or managed except that she did at one time serve as Director for Marketing of Kraft Foods.

Admiral Vernon Clark USN Retired: Former Chief of Naval Operations sacrificed 30,000 Navy personnel and decommissioned dozens of ships early in order to “recapitalize” the fleet, something that never occurred. Current CEO of SRI International  “an independent, nonprofit research institute conducting client-sponsored research and development for government agencies, commercial businesses, foundations, and other organizations. SRI also brings its innovations to the marketplace by licensing its intellectual property and creating new ventures.” On Board of Directors of Raytheon Company, Rolls Royce North America, Horizon Lines, and the World Board of Governors of the USO. He is a Distinguished Professor atRegentUniversity and serves as a Trustee at RegentUniversity,Vanguard University and Air University. He is a senior advisor with Booz Allen Hamilton, and is on advisory boards with the Defense Policy Board, Fleishman-Hillard, Northrop Grumman, Robertson Fuel Systems LLC, Cubic Defense Applications, Inc., and the Executive Committee of Military Ministry.

General Michael Carns USAF Retired: Served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force from 1991-1994. In 1995 he withdrew his nomination to become director of the CIA when it was revealed that he had failed to properly compensate a young Filipino who legally accompanied his family to the United States, an act he said that was an “innocent mistake.” He currently serves as the Vice Chairman of Priva Source, Inc., a small software firm specializing in the security and de-identification of large, sensitive databases, in Weston, Massachusetts and serves on the Board of Directors for Virtual Agility, Inc.

Putting it all Together

Everyone knows that our country needs to put its financial house in order.  However let us put a few things in perspective.

The 50% of Pay Retirement Myth: The 50% myth is widely circulated and most people wrongly assume that a military member that retires at 20 years gets 50% of their pay when they retire.  First the 50% is actually the average of their highest three years of base pay, usually amounting to about 47% rather than 50%.  A lot of people talk about the 38 year old retiree getting 50% of his or her pay for life.  First only a fraction of enlisted members can retire that early and most of those are in the pay grades of E6 and E7.  Many more especially officers, warrant officers and those that reach the E8 to E9 level stay longer meaning that they enter civilian life at a point where their age becomes a factor against them.  Additionally all lose special pays and things like the Basic Allowance for Housing, combat pay and other benefits. This means that the average service member is only receiving about 35% of their active duty pay and allowances when they retire.  Add to this the fact that many have incurred injuries including combat related injuries that follow them well past retirement.  The board is also recommending cutting medical benefits with General Punaro calling them a “GM type benefit” that cannot be sustained.

Reserve Retirement: Reservists that qualify for retirement receive that pay at the age of 60 and only receive a fraction of what they would if they had 20 active years. Reserve retirement is calculated on actual days of active duty, points for inactive duty training (drills) and points for being in a drilling status.  To have a “good year” for retirement a reservist has to accumulate 50 retirement points which can be any of the above plus points for correspondence or online courses offered by the military.  Most reservists spend many more hours and days in unpaid status in order to maintain their qualifications and ensure that their units are able to do their mission.

Many Military job specialties do not have a civilian equivalent: Here is another fact that the Board and other civilian critics of the military compensation like to ignore.  The way they market their proposal is to basically say that military retirement puts one on easy street and that veterans walk right into great jobs when they leave the military.  The unemployment rate for veterans is far higher than the national average as are medical and psychological problems related to their service.

What would replace the current system? A mandated program similar to a 401K which invests the service member’s contributions estimated at about 16% a year into mutual funds and the stock market.  The Board’s plan reduces retired pay 5% for each year before age 57 (17 years x 5% = 85% reduction), yielding only $3,600 a year at age 40 for an E7 at current pay rates.  At age 60, the retiree would begin drawing money from the 401(K)-type plan. Using their assumptions that project a 7% return on the investment, the retiree would draw $13,600 more per year until age 85. If the member wanted to withdraw money after age 85, the annual withdrawal amount would be reduced.  Now the plan would provide a limited benefit to those that leave the service before the 20 year mark and that is a plus for those service members.

Retaining Qualified People: The retirement system is a huge part of our military’s success.  It encourages well qualified people who could be making more money in the civilian world to stay in the military.  Back in the 1980s Congress passed a retirement reform plan that reduced the 20 year retirement benefit to 40% of the high three years. Secretary of Defense Weinberger said that it would make it hard to retain qualified people. Congress passed it and during the Clinton administration had to return to the 50% high-three plan because we were losing too many of our best people.  To use a rather quaint term “you get what you pay for.”

Follow the Money:

The crux of the Defense Business Board’s proposal is to make military retirement like civilian retirement.  The only problem is that civilian firms generally don’t have a “retirement plan” anymore.  Instead they make minimal investments in 401K programs which leave their “retirees” at the mercy of the economy and the markets.  I know many people in their 60s and 70s that have seen their nest eggs blow away in the latest market turmoil.  This is not exactly a secure investment especially when these same retirees will certainly face the reduction or elimination of their Social Security benefits that they like all people (except the miniscule number that can opt-out of it) contribute.

So it really isn’t the service member that benefits from this plan. Likewise if you admit that like in the 1980s and 1990s we will lose a lot of our best people if the retirement benefit is removed or substantially reduced with the resultant loss in experience and expertise and the effect on combat power.

So who benefits? Follow the Money: The reason that I put all the board member names and who they work for and what their connections are is so you can follow the money.  I have not seen any other articles or blogs that really trace this to the source.  Almost every single member, fellow or advisor has significant ties and relationships with major defense contractors or Wall Street forms that deal in mutual fund management, investment and businesses that focus on outsourcing. All were appointed by either Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld or Gates and represent institutions that are closely allied with the business interests of the Republican Party. Those that say that “Obama is threatening to cut military retirement” either are ignorant or lying.

Since none of the Board members are employees of the government and only are reimbursed for their per diem they are not fair arbiters.  They represent the very firms on Wall Street and the Defense Industry that will gain the most from this plan.  Almost all are so deeply enmeshed in what Dwight D. Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex that their ultimate loyalty is to those that they work for, those very firms that have swindled and cheated the government by their mismanagement and inefficiency in building weapons systems that are over budget, behind schedule and often cannot be fielded, have to be cancelled or truncated or are failures that cannot perform the mission that they were designed to do.  Likewise they represent the major financial interests that were hat in hand responsible for the financial meltdown of 2008, our record unemployment and possible double dip recession.  The firms that these men and women represent would receive a cash infusion of major proportions coming from the forced contributions by a million and a half active and reserve military members.

To his credit the new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said on Wednesday that there would be no changes coming soon and any changes will have to be passed by Congress.

Conclusion: We have been at war for 10 years and in various states of war or peace making operations for 20 years.  During that time only about one half of one percent of the American population served in the military at any given time.  To insinuate that the military personnel who have borne the brunt of these wars are greedy, overpaid or self serving is obscene and to imply that they veteran’s organizations that go to bat for the serviceman or women are working against our national security by fighting for military personnel is unconscionable. For the members of this board to suggest that somehow what military personnel receive in compensation is too much and the benefits too generous should look in the mirror.  The retired military members of the Board have not given up their retirement and are all connected with the major defense contractors and financial institutions that would benefit the most from this plan.  Many of the corporate members have been living off of other people’s money and government contracts almost all of their professional lives.  They are the people that pay lobbyists to ensure that they get tax breaks even as they collect every government contract and service that they can take.

I do not know any of the people on the board and many are philanthropists and some donate time and money to organizations that honor the military.  I am not saying that these are bad people. I simply am saying that they represent their interests and those of the corporations that they run or that employ them.  It is what is called “crony capitalism.”

Follow the money my friends follow the money.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: All information in this article regarding the members of the committee comes from the Defense Business Board website, the corporate websites of the various organizations that employ them and various business periodicals and publications on the web.  

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