Meeting with Legislative Affairs for Senator Crapo on Wed (1) Courtesy Kristine Schellhaas (Courtesy photo)
Kristine Schellhaas and her husband, now a mustang infantry officer, at their first Marine Corps Ball in 1996. (Couresty Kristine Schellhaas)
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett made it clear that he believed a Military Times report took out of context controversial remarks he made to a Senate Armed Services Committee panel, particularly his statement that budget tightening on pay and benefits “will raise discipline.” But he said he realized he needed to clarify his meaning after reading an open letter from a Marine spouse who saw his remarks and had to ask more questions.
Kristine Schellhaas, who was named 2014 Quantico Spouse of the Year and selected as part of a small team of military spouses to lobby Congress for the Military Officers Association of America, wrote the open letter on the community website she founded, USMCLife.com.
“We stormed the Hill yesterday to fight for military benefits and Tricare. Your words were the complete opposite of what we were fighting for,” she wrote. With cuts to Tricare, she wrote, “Our families will have to make choices between paying the electric bill or that co-pay for a nagging cough. They’ll pay the electric bill.”
Barrett told Marine Corps Times he read Schellhaas’s letter the day it was posted, April 10. It was that post, he said, that made him call the paper in for an interview so that he could explain his intent.
“She’s obviously very articulate, and she lays out her thoughts and her feelings,” Barrett said. Later, he added: “her open letter was wonderful ... so apparently, [I] didn’t do well.”
Beyond that, differences of perspective between Schellhaas and Barrett remain. After reading Barrett’s April 11 letter to all Marines in response to the controversy, Schellhaas said she was disappointed that he didn’t address coming changes to the Tricare system that she believes will dramatically reduce Marines’ spending and make it harder for families to receive affordable healthcare.
“No one wants to lose any money, but when we have to lose and make a sense of concession, some things are easier to lose than others,” she said. “I wished he would have addressed it in the letter.”
Barrett, on the other hand, emphasized his belief that the growth of benefits needed to be curtailed to properly fund readiness.
“We are a warfighting organization. And if we don’t get control or slow growth, we are are going to be an entitlements-based and health care provider, and not a warfighting organization,” he said. “That’s what I will tell you: we have to remember what we do for a living.”
Despite the differing viewpoints, Schellhaas said she was encouraged to see the senior enlisted leader of the Corps responding directly to the concerns of military family members, who she said can sometimes feel sidelined in discussions of future policy.
“I think it’s great. People want some answers to questions, and I think this is the best way to do it,” she said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction for families who are feeling abandoned by leadership right now.”
Marine Corps Times also sat down with Barrett on April 11. The interview will be published in a Q&A format in this week’s paper (out on newstands April 14), as well as on MarineCorpsTimes.com Prime.