Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett says Marines don't spend much time thinking about compensation and benefits. 'They don't want an easy life,' he told lawmakers Wednesday. 'They want to be tougher people.' (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
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Lower pay and slimmed-down benefits will make Marines more disciplined and less wasteful, according to the Corps’ top enlisted Marine.
In comments before a Senate Armed Services Committee panel on Wednesday, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal Barrett dismissed lawmaker concerns that proposed compensation trims in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal would hurt troops’ morale or desire to serve.
“Marines don’t run around asking about compensation, retirement modernization,” he said. “That’s not on their mind. As I talk to thousands of audiences, they want to know into whose neck do we put a boot next.
“They want to know about what new equipment are we getting, are we continuing to modernize. Just because the budget sucks, does that mean we’re not going to get our new gear?”
Barrett’s comments came in contrast to his counterparts in the other services, who conceded to senators that lower pay raises, scaled-back commissary offerings and smaller housing stipends would be problematic for many servicemembers.
Instead, Barrett argued that the lower quality of life would be beneficial to Marines.
“I truly believe it will raise discipline,” he said. “You’ll have better spending habits. You won’t be so wasteful.”
Both Barrett and the other leaders emphasized that without changes in compensation, force readiness will suffer. Pentagon leaders have said that they need to trim a host of benefits and family assistance efforts to ensure that training and equipment modernization funds aren’t compromised.
“In my 33 years, we’ve never had a better quality of life,” Barrett said. “We’ve never had it so good. If we don’t get ahold of slowing the growth, we will become an entitlement-based, a health care provider-based Corps, and not a war fighting organization.”
So far, that’s been a tough sell for Congress.
On Wednesday, several senators said they objected to any changes in troops’ pay and benefits until after the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission offers its recommendations on overhauling the system. Their report is set for early 2015.
Lawmakers are expected to begin marking up their versions of the fiscal 2015 defense budget next month.
When asked whether a smaller compensation package could be seen as a broken promise by servicemembers, Barrett said few Marines use pay and benefits as a factor in enlisting.
“They don’t want an easy life,” he said. “They want to be tougher people. They want the pride of belonging, being something bigger than themselves.”