On Memorial Day, Remember the Sequester

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Dod photo / Robert D. Ward

Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery

Remember the sequester? Those broad, blunt government cuts that kicked in on March 1?

There were lots of doomsday predictions about what would happen when the $85.4 billion in spending reductions took effect for fiscal year 2013 (with similar cuts through 2021). There was a momentary uproar over inconvenient airline delays, but the right people spoke up, and the FAA was spared its share of cuts.  So far, aside from government workers penciling in their furlough days, only one other group of Americans has felt the sequester’s force: military families.

Military families’ concerns tend to remain stable over time: deployments, moves, and pay always rank at the top.  But in Blue Star Families’ just-released annual survey of servicemembers and their families, there’s a surprise: the word “sequester” appears for the first time in the context of servicemembers’ increased financial insecurity.

And that’s because, for us military families, the numbers aren’t abstract figures. As the survey states, “The impact of sequestration has been notable in the form of deployment cancellations and delays; but there have also been increased uncertainties with scheduled PCS [permanent change of station] moves, and DoD [Department of Defense] schools are enduring budget cuts and furloughs that are impacting the education of our children.”

Here’s what that looks like under a magnifying glass:

– Some military families have to maintain two homes they can’t afford, because a work transfer was delayed after the next house was already bought.

– Civilian teachers in the 194 Department of Defense-run schools worldwide will be furloughed, which affects the number of school days in the year and the school’s accreditation (with potentially dire consequences for a high-schooler’s admission to college).

– A carrier deployment was called off, and with it the planned for “at-sea” pay subsidies that some families depend on.

– The timing of the adoption of a child must be re-negotiated.

Suddenly, it’s personal.

“America needed us during a decade of war,” a former Air Force spouse told me. “Now that’s over, and we’re thrown aside.  We were used, and no one needs us anymore.”

Other military spouses express the same idea that the contract has been broken.  Mom and Dad — Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam — are arguing, and they’re dragging us into it.

Servicemembers did what was expected of them, working long hours far away and sacrificing family time for long-term financial stability like retirement benefits and insurance for life – much of which appears to be at risk due to the sequester. As for military salaries, next year’s expected pay increase is expected to be limited to 1% because of “budget uncertainties.” (This despite the fact that a 1.7% increase had already been approved, based on the Labor Department’s 2014 Employment Cost index, which has been the basis for military pay for the last several years.)

But military families are flexible, right?

Sure. They’re so compliant and adjustable that many go by the motto Semper Gumby.

Blue Star survey author (a Navy spouse and Navy veteran) Dr. Vivian Greentree says that “while the necessities of transitioning and adaptability have always been central themes and challenges of the military lifestyle, change is especially imminent inside the military community today…These changes, coupled with the unknown, final outcome of sequestration, have caused a level of uncertainty with unspecified impact on the military community, as well as the nation itself.”

Listen to the tone, data-driven and calm, but with an implicit warning to the entire country, whether or not you’re part of the 1% who serve. Military families are canaries in sequestration’s coal mine: we endure the cuts first, but all Americans are ultimately at risk.

Although only DoD-run schools suffer teacher furloughs, the nation’s public schools will soon feel sequestration’s pinch as well, according to the National Military Family Association.  Federal-education programs face $106 million in cuts intended to help fund civilian schools educating military kids; $1 billion in special education programs; $140 million in student financial aid; and $1.3 billion in Title I funding that helps many schools attended by military children.

Just one example from Naval aviation hints at even more ominous repercussions: in April, the Navy shut down one aircraft carrier wing (the group of aircraft borne by a single carrier). Another three carrier wings will be granted less flying time, while an additional two air wings will be “reduced to minimum safe flying levels” by the end of the year, meaning that they would not be available immediately to sail with a carrier if a crisis occurred, according to one report.

Earlier this month, Defense Department Comptroller Robert F. Hale testified that the severe and abrupt budget cuts imposed by sequestration are “devastating” the U.S. armed forces — that sequestration is “seriously undermining” the Defense Department’s twin goals of aligning to the nation’s defense strategy and maintaining a ready force.

Diminished levels of readiness serve no one, regardless of whether or not you serve.

So on Memorial Day — when we remember those who sacrificed the most — let’s remember the sequester, too.  It’s swiftly becoming our shared sacrifice as Americans.

Alison Buckholtz is the author of the military-family memoir Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War, and has written for numerous publications. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband, an active-duty Naval officer, and two children.

5 comments
BrianMDanielson
BrianMDanielson

But how about we say that on this day, TO HELL WITH THE SEQUESTER. I could use my own form of Navy language but this is as calm as I could make it. My baggage as follows;

1) As a veteran, I have spent my 22 years either preparing or deploying to the CENTCOM AOR in various capacities

2) POW/MIA Family member. Digging Laotian clay with bare hands until your fingers bled to find the remains of a father who left when you were 1 years old, then bringing those remains home to a grateful community 38 years later leaves a lasting impact.

3) Son, Brother, family member of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country. If you have placed any or either in a flag draped pine box and then looked at the heartbreak of a grieving spouse or family member, it will change your view of the term "Memorial Day".

Based on my experiences with 1), 2), and 3) I can tell you that on Memorial Day the furthest thing from my mind is sequestration. I think of loss and sacrifice. I think of futures traded in exchange for the hope of one that is better for some one else; and that someone else may not even be aware of it. It is about death and dying and it is raw, and ugly, and heartbreaking. But you simply cannot have a Memorial Day without separating the aspect of death. John Wooden said "you can't have a perfect day without doing something for someone that will never be able to repay you." There are hundreds or thousands of examples of this on headstones all offer this country. Exactly no one is immune to a requirement of honor to those who are on those headstones. There is only one time for that honor and that honor alone . That time is today.

The included article talks about problems. There are problems of budgets, and money, and personnel, and family challenges. Problems be they may, they are problems of the living. The key word here is living, and I will go so far as to call it a luxury of the living. I can't speak for all of my peers listed in baggage issues 1), 2), or 3) but I would promise you that I would take an innumerable amount of financial, personal, or family challenges for any living future moments with a friend, family member, or father who has been denied a future. I cannot always make terms with it, but one of the things that helps is to know and hope and pray that the sacrifice has not been made in vain. That as long as I live, I will fight to honor that sacrifice and continue to hope and pray that their sacrifice has not been forgotten.

I have the luxury of being old. In military terms. I an ancient. The only thing that haunts me is the thought that some day soon, the sacrifices of the dead; the dead that have sacrificed so much for our future, will be forgotten. It happens slowly and seditiously. And it is most tragic because it does not happen intentionally. It happens when we confuse our priorities. Yes, I admit to being sensitive to this issue, but that may be my curse. Luckily for me, I know I am not alone. As I type this, many people in Kenyon, MN have already spent the day laying wreaths, flowers, and shedding tears. They are my strength, because I know the thought of sacrifice is alive and well in that sleepy little town. And I also know there are many more doing the same today in other towns. It fuels me, along with my baggage, in the thought that I am not too weird or misguided.

Sorry Allison, Memorial Day belongs to the headstones. I am happy and sad for anyone who disagrees. It is the right of the living....

BrianMDanielson
BrianMDanielson

But how about we say that on this day, TO HELL WITH THE SEQUESTER. I could use my own form of Navy language but this is as calm as I could make it. My baggage as follows;

1) As a veteran, I have spent my 22 years either preparing or deploying to the CENTCOM AOR in various capacities

2) POW/MIA Family member. Digging Laotian clay with bare hands until your fingers bled to find the remains of a father who left when you were 1 years old, then bringing those remains home to a grateful community 38 years later leaves a lasting impact.

3) Son, Brother, family member of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country. If you have placed any or either in a flag draped pine box and then looked at the heartbreak of a grieving spouse or family member, it will change your view of the term "Memorial Day".

Based on my experiences with 1), 2), and 3) I can tell you that on Memorial Day the furthest thing from my mind is sequestration. I think of loss and sacrifice. I think of futures traded in exchange for the hope of one that is better for some one else; and that someone else may not even be aware of it. It is about death and dying and it is raw, and ugly, and heartbreaking. But you simply cannot have a Memorial Day without separating the aspect of death. John Wooden said "you can't have a perfect day without doing something for someone that will never be able to repay you." There are hundreds or thousands of examples of this on headstones all offer this country. Exactly no one is immune to a requirement of honor to those who are on those headstones. There is only one time for that honor and that honor alone . That time is today.

The included article talks about problems. There are problems of budgets, and money, and personnel, and family challenges. Problems be they may, they are problems of the living. The key word here is living, and I will go so far as to call it a luxury of the living. I can't speak for all of my peers listed in baggage issues 1), 2), or 3) but I would promise you that I would take an innumerable amount of financial, personal, or family challenges for any living future moments with a friend, family member, or father who has been denied a future. I cannot always make terms with it, but one of the things that helps is to know and hope and pray that the sacrifice has not been made in vain. That as long as I live, I will fight to honor that sacrifice and continue to hope and pray that their sacrifice has not been forgotten.

I have the luxury of being old. In military terms. I an ancient. The only thing that haunts me is the thought that some day soon, the sacrifices of the dead; the dead that have sacrificed so much for our future, will be forgotten. It happens slowly and seditiously. And it is most tragic because it does not happen intentionally. It happens when we confuse our priorities. Yes, I admit to being sensitive to this issue, but that may be my curse. Luckily for me, I know I am not alone. As I type this, many people in Kenyon, MN have already spent the day laying wreaths, flowers, and shedding tears. They are my strength, because I know the thought of sacrifice is alive and well in that sleepy little town. And I also know there are many more doing the same today in other towns. It fuels me, along with my baggage, in the thought that I am not too weird or misguided.

Sorry Allison, Memorial Day belongs to the headstones. I am happy and sad for anyone who disagrees. It is the right of the living....

ShauntaSheppard
ShauntaSheppard

It's a monster nightmare that started out as a slow ripple and steadily turned into a tsunami in the military community. Too many families are being affected by the governments petty squabbles of the blame game. We're all americans no matter our political affiliation. So the ones in charge need to suck it up, put their big boy/girl panties on and go forward with coming up with a resolution to the issues at hand. During times of war they treat our military like a high priced call girls but then toss us aside like a 2 bit used up hooker. Blunt I know, but someone has to be. 

USAConservative
USAConservative like.author.displayName 1 Like

I don’t understand that for our fallen soldiers that have given the ultimate sacrifice, they get such a raw deal for their families whom are left behind to endure the loss.  On behalf of the Americans that care about you...

A Poem For Our Fallen Soldiers…

Memorial Day is here again.

To remind of us our heroic friends.

Whether you knew these Soldiers or not.

The freedom we have, is because they fought

You have heard the saying,

“Freedom is never Free”

So to our Fallen Soldiers, we can all agree…

YOU ARE OUR HEROES!

In Jesus name, I pray… Amen!

~a.vacio

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