Military Times: Military morale suffering due to budget cuts, loss of mission

The Military Times is running a three part series on the state of our military. They've titled it "America's Military: A Force Adrift" and if the first part of the series is any indication, it will prove to be a shocker.

Some of these numbers are alarming:

According to the Military Times survey, active-duty troops reported a stunning drop in how they rated their overall quality of life: Just 56 percent call it good or excellent, down from 91 percent in 2009. The survey, conducted in July and August, found that 73 percent of troops would recommend a military career to others, down from 85 percent in 2009. And troops reported a significant decline in their desire to re-enlist, with 63 percent citing an intention to do so, compared with 72 percent a few years ago.

Army Spc. David Potocnik is one of the troops who has seen morale in his unit take a hit, though he can't really put a finger on why. A Black Hawk mechanic with 2nd Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, at Fort Carson, Colorado, Potocnik said stress levels in his unit seem to be on the rise, despite a softening deployment tempo. Fellow soldiers, he said, struggle to connect what feel like excessive training and additional duties in garrison with operational readiness and the overall mission.

"There are people who are really motivated, really high-speed ... but they don't seem to be a majority," he said. "You'd think garrison would be more relaxed, but it's frantic — for no reason."

Troops said more stress is created by long-term budget cuts imposed on the force through sequestration — the much-despised but apparently inexorable automatic spending reductions over a decade approved by Congress — and drawdown measures designed to shrink the force. An Air Force captain working in security forces said the fiscal insecurity is taking its toll, causing more workplace exhaustion and frustration. And personal career uncertainty, he said, is driving many of his colleagues out of the service, perhaps earlier than they otherwise would have departed.

Budget cuts have also led to dissatisfaction with pay and benefits:

In 2009, 87 percent of active-duty troops who participated in Military Times' survey rated their pay and allowances "good" or "excellent." This year, the figure was just 44 percent. When asked how quality of life might change over the next several years, 70 percent of respondents predicted it would decline further.

A Navy fire controlman chief with 10 deployments said budget fears are contributing to a feeling of distrust and abandonment. "If sailors are worried about not getting paid, how am I supposed to do my job?" he said. "I'm not an effective warfighter if I don't have the backing of my government at home."

Not all in the report is doom and gloom All branches of the military except the Army Reserve achieved 100% or more of their recruiting goals. And retention remains high, partly because the civilian economy continues to offer little in the way of good jobs.

But the crisis extends to the soldier's lack of trust and belief in their leaders:

Overall officers in the military are:
2009 – 78% good or excellent
2014 – 49% good or excellent

The senior military leadership has my best interests at heart:
2009 – 53% agreed
2014 – 27% agreed

That's a remarkable fall off in the perception of leaders in the military from 2009. If these men are going to be asked to fight another war, those numbers are going to have to flip for them to be as successful as they have been in the past.

Parts II and III of the series will be published on December 14 and 21 respectively.


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