Years of Military Service Deserve Proper Pension

Tina Haapala |

Recently the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee stated that military retirement was an exceptionally generous benefit. They pointed out that it often provided 40 years of pension payment in return for “just” 20 years of service.

I beg to disagree.

Assuming you get 2 weeks of vacation, you work the other 50. Using the standard 40-hour workweek as a guide, a “normal” work year is about 2000 hours. Let’s compare that to the military.

When I was in the Navy I had the privilege of serving in the submarine service. A typical patrol began when they shut the hatch until they opened it again about 2000 hours later (that’s close to 3 months). We did that twice a year. And when I wasn’t submerged the Navy had me work another 1000 hours. So while my civilian counterparts were putting in a normal 2000 hour work-year, I was putting in a 5000 hour one.

But let’s not forget the working conditions. In the Navy, we had the little problem of never quite having enough fresh water all the time. So going days or weeks without bathing wasn’t unheard of. There were the occasional headaches when the oxygen levels got out-of-tolerance. There were no fresh vegetables after the first week. Milk was powdered. You actually had to use your emergency breathing masks and sometimes had to sleep in them…or at least try to.

Then there’s the ocean. It was always trying to kill us.

Oh, and we weren’t allowed to quit.

Yet I consider myself to have had it easy. Across the oceans I once patrolled, today there are men and women who are not just working unbelievable hours in extreme conditions, but people rather than oceans are trying to kill them. Unfortunately, people are better at it.

I’m sure that things are very different from when I was in. But I do know that my modern-day peers are still somewhere under the oceans missing their families, missing weddings, births, funerals, the sun, and fresh air.  That I know hasn’t changed.

And so, if after years of service, they happen to get out of the service and have some semblance of a normal life, I’m not going to hold against them that they are not yet elderly. They’ve already given America the equivalent of a full work life. I think it’s great that they have some time left over for a second career. In that way they double or triple their contributions to society.

I don’t regret for a moment my military service. I’m proud that I served and am honored that my country would trust me with so much at such a young age. I am also humbled by those who wear the uniform today.

The proposal that was being considered as I write this was a very modest one. It only cut cost of living increases by a bit. Even then it is only to affect those under 62-years of age. But this is a slippery slope. Even in this time of fiscal hardship, I choose to resist this modest proposal, because it is likely only the start of bigger cuts. If we need the money that badly, I’m willing to pay the additional taxes rather than take away from those who have already sacrificed so much.

This article was published under the title "Take a new look at military retirement figures"

in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on February 2, 2014.