On Jan. 15, Walter Pincus’s Fine Print column, “The unaffordability of the all-volunteer military,” railed about the high cost of defense personnel programs, while Mr. Pincus’s Post colleague Ernesto Londoño cited the record suicide rate among military personnel in 2012 [“More U.S. troops lost to suicide than combat in 2012”]. The significant rise in suicide rates “underscores the toll a decade of wars has taken on the all-volunteer force,” Mr. Londoño reported.
Neither piece fully explored the increasing demands and associated stress on personnel defending our nation, and neither noted the declining defense budget as a percentage of gross domestic product, particularly in comparison to past wartime periods. Drawing conclusions about military compensation and retirement by comparing military service to civilian employment neglects the level of risk and responsibility shouldered by the 1 percent of our population who serve in the armed forces. Just as highly vaunted and growing entitlement and social programs are important to our country, military compensation, health care, retirement and benefit programs are essential to sustaining the all-volunteer force and vital to maintaining readiness and ensuring our national security.
Readiness and national security come with a price, both monetary and incalculable in lives lost or altered by military service. It isn’t a question of the unaffordability of an all-volunteer force. It’s a matter of priorities and whether lawmakers find it unaffordable to defend our nation.
Joe Barnes, Alexandria
The writer is national executive director of the Fleet Reserve Association.