The Navy's top enlisted leader visited the Mix House at Naval Support Facility Indian Head on March 7, where he met with members of the Chief Petty Officers' Mess and petty officers 1st class to discuss potential changes to Sailors' benefits and quality of life.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON)(AW/NAC) Mike Stevens met with enlisted leaders from Naval Support Activity South Potomac, the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division and the Branch Heath Clinics at Dahlgren and Indian Head.
"It's an honor to have the 13th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy come have lunch with us and speak with us in such a small venue," said NSASP Command Master Chief Petty Officer (SW/AW) Jim Honea. "I think this is really special and I'm glad you are all able to take advantage of this."
Stevens began with the topic that continues to cast a pall across every aspect of national defense: ongoing budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty. The Budget Control Act of 2011, also known as the Sequester, mandates annual, across-the-board spending cuts to the Department of Defense totaling $470 billion. Last fiscal year, those cuts amounted to $37 billion; this year, the newly-signed Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 slightly reduced the estimated $52 billion sequester cuts slated for FY2015 by spreading the overall cuts over a longer timeline. While the cuts are now more targeted and less deep for a given fiscal year, the long-term DoD budget picture is still highly uncertain.
Already, there are a series of proposals from DoD that could potentially reduce the size of the services, retire one aircraft carrier and other ships, and limit or end some procurement programs. Military retirees and current service members may also see reductions in cost of living adjustments. Quality of life programs for active duty service members are another area that could be targeted for cuts. The administration proposed a $26 billion increase to DoD- part of the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative-that would be used for training and repair of military infrastructure, though that proposal faces congressional opposition.
Stevens recently testified before the House Armed Services Committee with senior enlisted leaders from the other service branches about the potential effects of the proposed cuts; the group will soon take that discussion to the Senate.
"We're going to be testifying before the [Senate Armed Services Committee]," said Stevens. "Because of the outcry, essentially, from the active and retired community, on the rollout of the budget, the [committee] wants to talk to all the [service branches'] senior enlisted leaders to hear what all of you are saying. So the conversation I want to have with you today focuses on those things. I need to pick your brains on a few things. I need you to think about what I'm talking to you about and formulate some thoughts about how you'd like to respond back. I can't begin to tell you about how important this discussion is."
Stevens zeroed in on quality of life and its correlation to quality of service. "Quality of life are things like your base pay, your [Basic Allowance for Subsistence], your [Base Allowance for Housing] and other special pay that you may get. It's also your Tricare and your dental. It's the services that Fleet and Family Support Centers provide you and your families. It's also things like gyms. So think about quality of life and share with me what you think about this budget rolling out. What do you see in the future for your quality of life?"
Attendees expressed concerns about the potential cost burden the proposed budget might impose on service members, while also emphasizing that their military service was not motivated by any monetary desire.
For example, one proposal would control BAH costs by subtracting locality adjustments from a set maximum. The current system gives service members a minimum BAH and adjusts upward depending on locality. While the senior enlisted leaders in attendance agreed that cuts in BAH would be bearable for them, they expressed concern about how such cuts might affect junior Sailors, military families and retention. Some in the group were also concerned about potential cuts to commissaries and base exchanges. Others noted that stable or slightly increased base pay levels might not keep pace with inflation or increases in the cost of living.
Stevens took in the group's observations and encouraged them to keep tabs on the ever-evolving budget proposals "If you're in here, you're a leader," he said. "As leaders we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and educate our people."