Joint Chiefs chairman says abundance of good civilian jobs hurts military recruitment
Web posted at: 9:55 p.m. EDT (0155 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The strong American economy is draining the military of its most talented work force, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
"Even the finest high-tech equipment will never be the determining factor on the battlefield," Shelton said. "The most critical factor for both current and future readiness are our men and women that we are privileged to have serving in uniform today."
Shelton said slow recruitment and difficulty retaining current service members result from the military's inability to compete with better-paying and more "family-friendly" jobs in the private sector.
Shelton and other military leaders painted a gloomy scenario about the future of the military without a boost in spending on "quality of life" personnel issues like salaries, health benefits, pensions and military family housing.
"I believe with the support of the administration and the Congress we should be able to apply corrective action now and to pull back on the stick and begin to climb before we find ourselves in a nose dive that might cause irreparable damage to this great force that we have created," Shelton said.
Pentagon number crunchers estimate the military would need $35 billion to $45 billion to bridge the gap between civilian and military pay over the next five years, and another $9 billion to fix the sagging retirement system.
Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps leaders all ranked attention to the human element as more important than any hardware issues like weapons or systems upgrades. But the state of equipment is posing problems as well.
"Instead of replacing brake pads, we're replacing entire brake assemblies," said Marine commandant Gen. Charles Krulak.
The armed forces leaders criticized Congress for funding airplanes and other military projects the Pentagon has not requested, and then failing to fund upgrades, repair parts and technical support for the add-ons.
Several senators said they were struck by the change in the commanders' approach. They said that in previous hearings the Joint Chiefs had expressed far too rosy a picture of the military's ability to do its job. Shelton and his colleagues should have seen the problems coming and raised the alarm months ago, several senators said.
"This readiness crisis didn't come out of nowhere," said Republican Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire. "You and your predecessors presided over it."
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, complained that the Pentagon had underestimated the costs of the various peacekeeping programs in which U.S. military personnel have participated.
"We've had 14 contingency operations since 1991," she said. "Now there is a tremendous problem with respect to readiness.... This gross miscalculation of the cost of Bosnia has eroded our strength."
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