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A crack has formed in the Military Coalition over the 2014 pay raise, with one prominent association deciding to support smaller pay increases to pay for other defense programs.
The Air Force Association, a 105,000-member nonprofit organization that last year took credit for helping active-duty members receive a 1.7 percent pay raise in January to keep pace with private-sector salaries, backs an Obama administration plan to cap the 2014 raise at 1 percent instead of the 1.8 percent required to keep up with the private sector.
Douglas Birkey, AFA’s government relations director, confirmed in a statement that the association “supports the current Air Force regarding the 1 percent pay raise.” Money saved by reducing the raise can be better used on other programs, Birkey said.
“This all comes down to balance for a budget that addresses numerous issues, of which pay and operational accounts are a fractional element,” Birkey said. “Whether providing base security, funding Air Force hospitals, daycare facilities, sustaining military construction projects, procuring new aircraft, et cetera, are numerous factors in play that must all be managed.”
“All accounts, not just pay and benefits, are facing major pressure,” he said. “AFA believes the number one priority must be to ensure our airmen are ready and equipped to successfully undertake their missions and return home safe.”
AFA is a member of the Military Coalition, a collection of 33 military and veterans groups that share a common legislative agenda and has championed increases in military compensation and protected benefits from cuts. AFA’s name was on the Military Coalition’s April 17 policy statement submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee that asked Congress to overrule the Obama administration on the raise.
“History provides ample evidence that capping military raises is an exceptionally slippery slope which has never ended well,” says the Coalition statement, presented to the committee by retired Air Force Col. Steve Strobridge of the Military Officers Association of America. Strobridge is not a member of the Air Force Association.
“The Coalition is very concerned that many in the administration and some members of Congress are unaware of the history of compensation including changes and associated unforeseen outcomes,” the statement says. “Moreover, we are alarmed that some view these vital compensation programs as a source of savings without regard to the impact they may have on long-term readiness in the all-volunteer force.”
Three days after Strobridge and other Coalition representatives appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on military personnel, Birkey sent an email to AFA members giving the association’s view of the 2014 Air Force budget.
“The bottom-line reality is that military pay and benefit accounts have increased aggressively over the past decade — with the Department of Defense’s healthcare program leading the way via 270 percent cost growth since 2002. Such rapid escalation is not sustainable, especially when it threatens mission success and aircrew survival.”
He later clarified that AFA supports the Military Coalition position on Tricare fees, holding annual increases to no more than cost-of-living adjustments in military retired pay.
About 20 percent of the association’s members are active, Guard or reserve members. Air Force retirees account for about half of the membership. The association also has corporation members, and receives large donations from major defense contractors.
Birkey downplayed the differences between AFA and the Coalition, saying member organizations do not have to support every position to belong. “All participating organizations consider issues on a case by case basis,” he said, a statement confirmed by other Coalition members.■