The Senate this week is scheduled to grapple with what military leaders consider the biggest problem within the armed forces: the exodus of skilled people.
In hopes of stemming this exodus, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are urging their civilian superiors to raise military pay. Bills providing for an immediate 3.41 percent raise for the 2 million men and women in uniform are scheduled to be voted on Thursday or Friday.
Navy leaders are warning that their shortage of skilled sailors has reached a point that ships may have to be tied up soon for lack of qualified people to run them. Adm. Thomas B. Hayward, chief of naval operations, has stresses that resumption of the draft would not help here because the need is for skilled people, not raw recruits.
The Air Force is losing so many pilots, who cost $1 million each to train, that leaders have resorted to advertising for retired pilots in hopes of luring them back into uniform.
Army and Marine Corps leaders, too, say they must find a way to retain skilled people to run the complicated weapons of modern warfare.
Sen. Bill Armstrong (R-Colo.) has been spearheading an effort to give service people the 3.41 percent raise, on top of the recently granted 7 percent for all government employees, to help offset the impact of inflation. Civilian workers would not get the additional money, which under the Armstrong measure would be retroactive to Jan. 1.
A rival bill sponsored by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) would concentrate the same 3.41 percent increase on the senior enlisted ranks, warrant officers and commissioned officers -- captain through lieutenant colonel. The Warner bill also would provide housing allowance, adjusted for housing cost differences in different areas.
Sen Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Armed Services personnel sub-committee, is expected to hold hearings this week on the various pay proposals. Nunn has been cool to the pay raise proposal, Armstrong said, because of Nunn's desire to bring back the draft.
Armstrong, in a series of Dear Colleague letters, has told senators that the whole pay structure of the military has gotten out of whack with the result that 100,000 service people qualify for government food stamps. He is calling for a complete overhaul of military pay, with the 3.41 percent raise just a stopgap measure to signal the troops that Congress is responding to their needs.
Aides to Armstrong said yesterday that they expect the recent developments in Iran and Afghanistan to give extra thrust to their measures, cosponsored by Sen. Spark M. Matsunaga (D-Hawaii).
The Armstrong bill would cost about $700 million. The House has not passed a similar measure, but Armstrong said several members there have said they would champion the raise in the House if it were passed by the Senate.