Copyright 2011 by John T. Reed

During 2011, the U.S. Air Force fired 157 officers on the eve of their retirement. The Air Force said they did this because of “budget constraints”, according to an op-ed in the 12/28/11 Wall Street Journal.

One of the fired officers is Major Kale Mosley. He is an Air Force Academy graduate who flew more than 250 combat missions. He was handed his pink slip as he was boarding the aircraft to take him to Iraq on his most recent deployment. As a result of the pink slip, he will get no pension at all and no long-term health care for himself and his dependents. Note, although service academy students are on active duty starting around July 1st of their freshman year, those four years do not count for retirement vesting.

There was briefly a law that allowed people who left the military short of twenty years to get prorated pension and health care benefits, but it expired in 2001.

I have a number of different comments to make on this.

1. Military retirement benefits have long been way too generous. It has long been possible to retire from the U.S. military at age 37 with half pay indexed to inflation and with health care for the retiree and his dependents for life at a cost of one tenth the average cost civilians pay. They should be radically reduced across the board to approximately match civilian benefits. Ideally, the military would end pensions completely and let military personnel prepare for their own retirement the way civilians do with IRAs and home ownership and so on.

2. Supporters of the current military retirement benefits incessantly point to risking one’s life in combat as justification. In fact, only lifers get retirement benefits. The vast majority of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who risked their lives in combat are not lifers. They just serve for a few years then leave. Per year served, the lifers probably are exposed to far less combat than the non-lifers. Furthermore, the lifers typically end their careers as high-ranking NCOs or officers who are lieutenant colonels, colonels or generals. Such high ranks are less exposed to death or wounds in combat and they get paid a lot more than the cannon fodder lower ranks. So the lifers already get more pay and benefits while on active duty, for less risk of life, than the non-lifer vets.

3. Whatever the problems of the military retirement benefits, these 157 guys did not cause them any more than any other lifers.

4. Can the government do this? Weren’t these guys promised the opportunity to stay for 20 and retire as long as they did not get fired for cause? That’s what military people were always told, but apparently the fine print says no such thing. I cannot feel too sorry for these 157 on that score. They should have read the fine print. Plus, they have been in the Air Force for close to 20 years and during that time they saw the Air Force lie and waste taxpayers money and give medals that were not deserved and deny medals that were deserved and promote the meritless and pass over the meritorious. So now you guys are getting screwed by the organization that you saw repeatedly lie to, and screw, others for all those years and you are “shocked, shocked?” There is some poetic justice is your current plight. Throughout your service, it was an all-volunteer military. Had you asked me, I would have advised against the course you chose. I would have told you to go straight instead. Get a real job in the for-profit sector where you earn your pay every day, not just 250 times, and you take care of your own retirement and health care the way those of us who you thought were expected to pay for both our retirement and your retirement have. You made your bed, now lie in it.

5. As far as Major Mosley’s 250 combat missions are concerned, you got combat pay and, I believe, flight pay. When I was in Vietnam I got combat pay and, briefly, jump pay for having jumped out of a plane when I was in the 82nd Airborne Division. No one promised me or you any more than that for those months when we risked our lives. No one since planes were invented ever got extra retirement for combat missions. Not letting you retire with 20 years may be reneging on at least an implied agreement, but there was never any representation that your combat missions would be compensated beyond the combat and flight pay. Millions of U.S. vets have flown combat missions and engaged in ground or naval combat missions without getting extra retirement consideration beyond the pay bumps you got at the time. So your lawyer’s noting your combat missions is just a cheap shot for PR purposes. Military lifers have no monopoly on risking their lives. Military pilots have no monopoly on risking their lives. Military vets have no monopoly on risking their lives. Uniformed services including military, police, and fire have no monopoly on risking their lives. I read somewhere that the occupation that is the riskiest of all including the military is highway worker. Truth is there is a line of guys wanting into life-risking ocupations like military pilot, police, and firefighter. One of the attractions is that you can brag about risking your life merely by stating your occupation or parading around the civilian world in your uniform. That is a form of compensation itself. Americans must get over their fear of criticizing or even saying no to uniformed employees seeking extra compensation because they risked their lives. Vallejo, CA went bankrupt because of their inability to say no to police and fire demanding more and more pay and benefits. Citizens there joke that P.D. stands for “pay or die” referring to the many police warnings that the citizens will not be as safe if they reject police financial demands.

6. The Defense Department should reduce military expenditures across the board because the American people simply refuse to pay them. That means reductions in the number of active-duty troops, spending on new weapons development and procurement of unneeded weapons, and across-the-board cuts in retirement benefits.

7. Mathematically, firing pilots just before their retirement benefits vest gets the most money-saving bang per pink slip. But if the military intends to continue to use the retirement benefits as their main carrot for recruiting and retaining personnel, they cannot afford to treat people like this. On the other hand, since when are a group of retirees the best “warriors?” By definition, such motives seem to assume they will live a long life. We need to recruit and retain the people who are best at winning our wars, not the ones who want to get paid the most for working the fewest years.

8. Service academy cadets and prospective cadets and laymen figure that service academy graduates like Mosley have the inside track within the military officers corps and are guaranteed or almost guaranteed to have a more successful career than ROTC or OCS officers. Ask Mosley about that. He busted his ass to graduate from the Air Force Academy, as I did at West Point, only to find that he is a discriminated-against minority in the military. Only about a third of brand new second lieutenants are West Point in the Army and for the Army officer corps in general, the percentage of West Pointers is only about 15%. That means the rate at which West Pointers resign their commissions before retirement benefits vest is higher than the rate at which OCS and ROTC officers resign before vesting. That is the opposite of what you would expect, isn’t it? You thought the percentage of service academy grads went up with each passing year of service and rose in rank, didn’t you? Wrong. Most officers are non-academy grads. That means most of the guys who write your efficiency reports are non-academy grads. I never had an effiency report written by a West Point graduate. The non-academy guys in my experience and according to what I have heard and read dislike academy grads because of their supposed advantages. The bottom line is academy grads are an unpopular minority in the military and get treated badly as a result. That is probably one of the main reasons they get out more than the majority source-of-commission officers. You can read more about that in my web article “Should you go to, or stay at, West Point?” What happened to Mosley is further evidence of this. Also, he is a major. I do not know how close he was to retirement, but in the Army, I have never heard of a West Pointer retiring after 20 years at a rank lower than lieutenant colonel. Major is the rank just below lieutenant colonel. Air Force may be different or maybe he has not yet reached the number of years where Air Force officers normally make lieutenant colonel, but my eyebrows went up when I saw his rank was still major.

9. I saw no mention of it in the article, but these 157 guys are almost certainly due to get substantial severance pay. I got fired by the Army in 1972 for “defective attitude” and I got something like $4,300 severance pay—$23,000 in today’s dollars. (I was honorably discharged when I had one year remaining of my five-year commitment from graduating from West Point. I was going to resign the minute my five years was up and said so starting in 1966. My immediate superiors ultimately said, “You can’t quit. You’re fired.”) A bunch of my West Point classmates, including many stars, got RIFfed. That means Reduction in Force, fired because they were shrinking the size of the Army after the Vietnam war ended. They also got honorably discharged and received around $15,000 in severance pay and that was around 1974 or about six years of service. In each case, the amount of the severance pay was determined by a formula based on your pay at the time and how many months you had been an officer. In today’s dollars, $15,000 in 1974 is $69,000. So I expect military pilots getting fired close to retirement are due six-figure severance amounts. What they are fighting over the difference between that and the present value of 20-year retirement benefits based on their remaining life expectancy. Since the federal government is racing toward bankruptcy with the insane deficit spending of late, the 157 might be better off to take the severance now and run. I wrote a book called How to Protect Your Life Savings from Hyperinflation & Depression and became an expert on all that stuff in the process of wirting it. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the U.S. government will forced to cut federal spending down to tax revenues, in other words, live within its means. That will mean about a 50% across-the-board cut and everyone including retired lifers figures they will be exempt. No, they won’t. Federal retirees will see their pension and benefits cut by about half. The numbers are simple. We collect $2.3 T in taxes per year and spend $3.6T. We borrow by selling U.S. government bonds to make up the difference or deficit. The world bond market is getting closer to saying no more to our bonds. Moody’s downgraded the outlook on U.S. bonds to “negative” in 2011; S&P downgraded U.S. bonds from AAA to AA+. When the bond market stops buying U.S. bonds, the federal government will only have $2.3T to spend on everything including military pensions and health care, Social Security, defense, Medicare, etc. They will be forced to default on the national debt and ration the meager tax revenues among all the federal government’s welfare queens (people who now get federal checks for doing nothing currently) and its active employees. The Department of Denese can cut the number of active-duty military to save money, but they cannot cut the number of retired military to save money. So they will have to cut the amount of money the retirees get. Probably, we will have a Potemkin Village military like the 1930s. Still an impressive number of personnel, but not much ammo or fuel or weapons because the money for those “had” to be given to military retirees for political reasons. As has been said about the military since World War II, it is SNAFU.

In a letter to the Wall Sreet Journal on 1/6/12, an Air Force spokesman confirmed much of what I suspected the lawyers for one major left out.

A. The lawyers suggested the Air Force was violating its own guidelines in separating the 157. Air Force says it was complying with the law when it separated the major and 156 others.

B. Because of record high retention rates, the Air Force had more people than Congress allowed it to have.

C. By law, the answer to the question “Who leaves when you have too many” is those who are passed over for promotion twice. I said my eyebrows went up when I saw the guy was still a major when nearing retirement. Apparently he was passed over for promotion twice and is, at least in the official record, one of the hindmost 157 officers in an Air Force with too many officers.

The requirement that you be passed over for promotion twice pushes the separations in question into the later years because the being passed over stuff occurs at the lieutenant colonel and above promotions. Not getting promoted to captain, as I managed to do, or major, is virtually unheard of. Those promotions come around when the officers in question can first get out of the military. The military has a chronic shortage of captains. You have to go out of your way, which I sort of did by refusing to do stuff everyone else including non-career officers went along with, to not make captain or major. So since passing over only occurs in the later years of your first twenty, it is inevitable that officers near retirement will be the ones let go for that reason. To me, that’s yet another reason not to join or remain in such an orgnization to begin with.

When I was separated from the Army in 1972, one of the accusations against me that I had to disprove to remain for one more year was that I had “failed to keep pace with my contemporaries.” That meant I was still a first lieutenant when my West Point classmates were captains, the next higher rank. At that time, Army officers were promoted to first lieutenant on the first anniversary of their being commissioned and to captain on the second anniversary. I did not want to be there at all, let alone have higher rank. (Higher rank got you a little more pay, but when you make captain, they typically assign you to the so-called career course or advanced course. If you take that course, you increase your obligation to stay in the army. I already had a five-year obligation from West Point and sure as hell was not going to agree to increase it.) I was promoted on the first anniversary because I was still in Army schools at the time. On the second anniversary I was in a line unit where you have to sign false documents and kiss the colonel’s ass and all that—stuff I always refused to do.

I thought the regulation that said I had to “disprove” that I had “failed to keep pace with my contemporaries” was unconstitutional. I had to prove I was a captain when I clearly was not and had no control over my own promotion. How could anyone possibly do that? I chose to just move on with my life at the time because all that was at stake was my staying on one more year to fulfill my West Point commitment. But I did consider a post-Amy civilian court challenge and my legal research indicated that the argument would have been that you cannot demand that a first lieutenant prove he is a captain when he is not. The real question is did they have a good reason not to promote the officer to captain. In my case, they did not a good reason. If they did have a good reason, then throw the guy out for that reason, not the fact that his superiors stopped him from being promoted. Make them say why they stopped the promotion and prove the reasons.

So is Major Mosley same as me? No. The reasons he was not promoted, or at least the stated reasons, were supposed to be in his Air Force efficiency reports which you get something like annually. If your efficiency report is wrong, you are allowed to appeal it. Mosley apparently either did not do that or lost the appeal if he did.

Did I appeal my efficiency reports? Absolutely not. I laughed at the suggestion. My Army lawyer for the last year of my time in the Army was mad at me about that and trying to win my case. I told him appealing a report was a waste of time. You cannot disprove subjective stuff and virtually every word in the report was subjective. A West Point classmate of mine appealed a report. I thought he was demeaning himself. He lost the appeal, which was totally predictable. He managed to stay until retirement, but he did not end up with any rank indicating he had done well. I also told my lawyer, who was essentially a civilian serving his own four-year commitment, that he was nuts to think there was any point to appealing an efficiency report or to trying to win my separation hearing.

( I had some objective grounds for appealing my reports and non-promotion to captain. I was always rated by the battalion commander and his executive officer. That was appropriate when I was a company commander—my last job. In a number of assignments they took the task of rating me away from the officers who were supposed to do it to prevent my getting a good rating—typically from a young officer who was about to get out of the Army. No West Point graduate ever rated me. The general on my board of inquiry pointed that out to one of my unauthorized raters when he was on the witness stand. Also, they were supposed call me in a discuss each rating or non-promotion with me by regulation. None of them ever had the guts. I expect I could have appealed on those objective grounds, but I doubt there was any objective, fair person reading the appeals. They would select the decision they felt would not hurt their careers regardless of logic. They were probably field grade officers and they did not get to those ranks by bucking the system or finding in favor of lieutenants who did. After you are out of the military, you can sue in federal court to get reinstated, at your own legal expense. I would expect the federal district court judges would try to be objective and fair, but unless they were prior military, they would typically defer to the military on such matters as subjective evaluation of an officer.)

I was only opposing my separation to get a transcript of the hearing. My JAG lawyer said the civilian courts would like to see me appeal the reports. “Yeah, because they know even less about the Army than you,” I told him. In other words, it would be for show, not reality. If I had been willing to play the form-over-substance games, they would have promoted me to captain and tried to talk me out of resigning when my five years was up.

My problem with Mosley, which involves no subjective assessments, is if he was smart enough to graduate from the Air Force Academy, he was smart enough to see, once he was an officer, that the U.S. military was corrupt, inept, Kafkaesque, and highly political. When he saw those things, he elected to stay. That is my problem with him. The complaint that was hurled at me by my superiors again and again that I was refusing to “play the game,” meaning to go along with the false documents and pressuring my enlitsed men to give to United Fund and all that. Major Mosley chose to play the game. Live by the game; die by the game.

D. The Air Force said that, as I suspected, those 157 were typically authorized six-figure severance pay. They also listed six lesser, but still significant, separation benefits.

E. The Air Force said Mosley could have stayed in the military until retirement if he had continued to serve in the reserves. I had forgotten that. When I got discharged in 1972, I got a letter urging me to join the reserves. I remember being astonished that the Army certified that I was not up to their “high” standards to be an officer, but the reserves was going out of their way to recruit me to be one of their officers. I sent back their little card after I checked the “no freaking way” box. I know a number of West Point graduates who did continue their service in the reserves. They got promoted while in the reserves and often got deployed on active duty after Bush II became president. One came close to becoming the head commander of all reserves in the Pentagon, an active-duty position. It takes longer than 20 years to reach the age where you can retire in the reserves, and I’m guessing the retirement pension is lower than if you were on active duty for 20 or more years, but you can retire in the reserves and apparently the reserves have no standards, or at least none compared to the machinations in the active military.

I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the military—reserves, active, none of it—after I figured out what it was really like. It is an immoral, inept organization. While I could have gotten some part-time pay and retirement benefits if I had gone into the reserves, you do not stay in an organization you think is profoundly bad for one minute, regardless of benefits or any advantages it might have. Like I said above, Mosley and the other 156 made their beds, now they can lie in them. The lawyer letter previously in the Journal was more political than legal and quite incomplete.

John T. Reed