The Sequester, as Seen From Inside the Military

Most of the country seems to be edging into an "ehh, who cares? It's all politics!" attitude about permanent-emergency government funding. Here is a note from a serving officer about what "the sequester" means from inside one branch of the military.

I've been in the Air Force for a little over four years, and was in training for four years before that. I've recently returned from a small cantonment in the desert, and am stationed overseas in the western Pacific. And I'd like to tell you that the sequester is having a very real effect on our lives here.

But first, a brief recent history lesson. As long as I've been in the Air Force - even when I was a cadet and we were in the midst of two wars, the military has tried to do more with less. In 2006, the Air Force cut down its personnel numbers in an effort to save money that could be used on newer planes. Naturally, the less people meant there was a higher deployment tempo - people were heading to the desert for longer amounts of time and more often. To make up for the smaller number of military personnel, contractors and civilians were asked to take on a bigger role.

I'm sure you've heard about how big a presence contractors have in these wars - the reason for that is a government attempt to save money. Shortly after that, when the recession hit and the stimulus came and left, again we were in a "constrained fiscal environment," as our leadership likes to tell us. For the past 3 years, we've been cutting back, spending less on staying trained and ready, trying to decide what training we could go without for the short term until things get "back to normal."

And now that sequester has hit - while we're still in Afghanistan, mind you - what is it that the military is cutting? We're not cutting any missions - all those will continue on, somehow, despite a cut to half of our operational budget. But instead, our training and readiness funds have been cut to the bare minimum. The belief is that it'll come back when things go "back to normal." But worst, of all, our benefits have started to get cut. DOD civilians - who have grown in number as uniformed personnel have shrunk - have just been given a 20% paycut across the Pacific. And for the military, college tuition assistance funds have disappeared across the services.

I don't know whether to rant against Congress, or our military leadership, including the President. I know Congress is responsible for the sequester. But it's the Pentagon who has decided to cut pay and benefits rather than cut missions. We've been doing "more with less" for a half a decade now, all while waiting for things to "get back to normal." Is this really what the people, what Congress wants? That our military is now prepared to do just as much as it did before, but without a force as well trained as before? And with civilians and military taking a significant haircut?

Even if you think the military has gotten too "entitled" with our free healthcare and assistance for college - there are still people fighting out there in a dangerous place. I'm back safe and sound, andwas lucky to have a quiet deployment. recently But I have more than a few friends getting shot at, mortared, and getting blown up while driving down bomb infested roads. Can't we wait until after 2014 before doing this?

I don't know if I'm making a false equivalence in blaming both the executive and the legislature and the pentagon, but frankly I don't care. I understand the military has to share in the burdens of thecountry - but why are our entitlement programs the first to go? The Murray budget plan includes still more military cuts, while the Ryan plan instead is nice enough to just go after veteran's programs. And this isn't even the policy argument talking about our 30-50 year old planes, ships, and weapons. And I know that the military is only feeling part of the pain - the same thing is happening in every federal program across the country.

And all this so that some big shot millionaire can keep his Bush tax cut?
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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