Skip to main content

Military families living in dread of cuts

By Rebekah Sanderlin and Molly Blake, Special to CNN
updated 10:37 AM EST, Wed February 13, 2013
A soldier of the 170th U.S. Army Infantry Brigade, returned from Afghanistan, reunites in Germany with his family.
A soldier of the 170th U.S. Army Infantry Brigade, returned from Afghanistan, reunites in Germany with his family.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Writers: Military families live with uncertainty as sequestration cuts loom
  • Families can't make plans, they say; troops and brass wait for sequestration ax to fall
  • Congress seems to forget military families when it's not election season, they write
  • Writers: Secretary of defense warns of a diminished ability to defend nation if cuts happen

Editor's note: Rebekah Sanderlin is a writer and an Army wife. She writes a blog about military family life called Operation Marriage and lives with her husband and three children near Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Molly Blake is a Marine Corps spouse, the managing editor of Blue Star Families and a freelance writer.

(CNN) -- When the Pentagon decided last week to delay the deployment of aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman to the Persian Gulf because of looming budget cuts, some military families found their already unpredictable lives thrown into even more uncertainty, victims of the ugly budget battle in Congress.

One military wife, Jenelle Hatzung, said she heard on the news, rather than from the Navy, that her husband's deployment was canceled just days before he was set to leave on the USS Truman.

"I never thought Congress' inability to pass a budget would so intimately affect my personal life," she said. She and her husband had plannedthe adoption of a baby to coincide with the time he would be home; now, those plans are in peril as her ensign husband faces a new schedule that will probably interrupt the proceedings.

Rebekah Sanderlin
Rebekah Sanderlin
Molly Blake
Molly Blake

"It isn't right," wrote Navy wife Jill Qualters on her blog. "I know that this whole thing comes down to the one thing that runs the world: money. And I know it is completely naive of me to think that families would come first. But this kind of emotional whiplash takes a toll."

All military families are living under the shadow of upcoming sequestration budget cuts. Although we hear congressional leaders extol their support for military families -- they even wear their alleged patriotism on their smart striped suits -- it's clear from inaction on the budget that their support is as empty as the USS Truman's deck.

Panetta warns of degraded military readiness from cuts

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



You see, not a lot of Americans serve in the military; it's only a tiny slice of the pie. According to a Pew Research study, about one-half of 1% of American adults have served on active duty at any given time in the past decade. So when the wind dies down and the flags stop flapping, military families are truly forgotten. We are no longer "special" interests.

A bit of Sequestration 101: When legislators raised the debt ceiling in 2011 but couldn't agree on a deficit-cutting plan, they passed the Budget Control Act, which called for huge automatic spending cuts -- or sequestration -- to start in January 2013 unless a plan for balancing the budget was drawn up. That didn't happen. If nothing changes, $1.2 trillion in automatic defense and nondefense spending cuts, divided evenly, will kick in over the next 10 years.

On military installations across the United States and around the world, operations have been hurt. Troops and brass are waiting for the ax to fall. Again. Commanders are paralyzed, unable to schedule training or order equipment because they don't know their budgets.

General: We face a 'readiness crisis'
Obama: Avoid sequester, pass small cuts

Troops preparing for combat deployments aren't getting the training that is essential for them to survive their missions. Service members in Afghanistan are already seeing the effects of anticipated budget cuts in everything from the equipment they are issued, or not issued, to the hours the chow halls are open.

We don't know what will happen to funding for the programs designed to tackle this war's ugly twins, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, not to mention the rising suicide epidemic among veterans and military family members. The fact is, we are losing about 22 veterans to suicide every day, with no evidence that the deadly tide is retreating.

By the Numbers: Recent defense spending

Military pay is exempt from sequestration cuts, but pay raises aren't. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will also ask Congress to limit next year's military pay increase to just 1%, even though the Labor Department's expected Employment Cost index for 2014 is higher. Translation: an effective pay cut.

Congress, it seems, is banking on our patriotism once again. They are taking for granted that the less than 1% who responded after the worst terrorist attacks in our nation's history -- and then responded again by staying in the fight for 11 years and counting -- will respond yet again by standing by stoically.

We understand that sacrifice is required of everyone in order to reduce our national debt, but the sacrifice should be shared by all.

We cannot perpetuate this fiscal mess. So this time around, we will pour our hearts and souls into compelling government leaders to feel, if only for a moment, what playing politics with people like Hatzung truly means. Military families will take to social media to write, tweet and post about the fiscal cliff's dangerous slide. They will write their members of Congress to remind them that relying on 1% of Americans to shoulder a nation's burden is preposterous.

And don't think our problems don't really affect most Americans. According to Panetta, "rough estimates suggest after 10 years of these cuts, we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in ... history."

Americans will be more vulnerable to emerging threats than ever, and with less training and equipment to respond. In other words, when the wolves come back to our door, there will be fewer, and noticeably weaker, dogs to keep them at bay.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writers.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT