Wednesday 21 February 2018

US troops fret about pay in debt crisis

LOLITA C BALDOR in Afghanistan

half a world away from Capitol Hill and the financial deadlock in the capital of the United States, the economy and debt crisis are weighing heavily on US troops in Afghanistan.

And the top question on their minds yesterday, even as bombings rocked the city around them, was one the top US military officer couldn't answer. Will we get paid?

"I actually don't know the answer to that question," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group of troops, while at the same time telling them they will continue to go to work each day.

But he offered a bit more optimism than defence officials when those questions have come up in recent weeks.

"I have confidence that at some point in time, whatever compensation you are owed, you will be given," said Admiral Mullen, who is making his 15th trip to Afghanistan, just two months before he retires. But, he noted: "There are plenty of you living paycheck to paycheck so if paychecks were stopped it would have a devastating impact very quickly."

Questions on military spending and how the ongoing budget struggles will affect them dominated the morning meeting at the Kandahar base, and it was the first thing Marines asked when he moved on to Camp Leatherneck later.

Troops pressed Admiral Mullen on whether the budget pressures would focus on pay or equipment and other acquisition. They bemoaned what it could cost to implement the new policy repealing the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military. And they wondered if their retirement pay was safe.

For his part, Admiral Mullen said the cost of repealing the gay ban was very limited. And he said there were no immediate plans to affect retirement benefits.

Admiral Mullen was visiting troops across southern Afghanistan yesterday.

He warned the troops that as time went on, budget restrictions would pare down the size of the military, and he told them to keep that in mind as they pursued their education and to try to further their careers so they would have a better chance of re-enlisting.

But, in the end, he punted the questions back to Capitol Hill. Asked whether Congress members would cut their own benefits, Admiral Mullen triggered chuckles when he recommended the troops email their representatives with that query.

ruth dudley edwards, page 25

Sunday Independent

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