High operational tempo, uncertainty about the future pay and benefits, issues with child care and spouse employment, and worries over new rules for permanent change-of-station moves ranked among the the concerns for service members, according to testimony before a House panel by the services' senior enlisted advisers.
The House Appropriations Committee's military construction and veterans affairs panel traditionally brings the senior leaders in to testify about quality of life in their enlisted forces. The Army's top enlisted soldier, Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey, told lawmakers that based on his discussions with thousands of soldiers and families, "I believe their quality of life is OK."
But that's not good enough, he said.
The things the military asks of them "is not commensurate with the quality of life that they have been given," Dailey said. "Frankly, it never will be. But we can certainly provide better than we do right now."
Some of the issues raised at the hearing, grouped by service:
Sailors: PCS crunch awaits. Among sailors' top concerns is this year's short lead time for permanent change-of-station moves, said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano. Families need more time to prepare for those movements of their possessions across the globe, he said.
The Navy announced in December that because there is less money for PCS moves, sailors planning to move before April 28 would get, on average, only two months' notice before they're slated to transfer.
The compressed timeline adds more stress to families' lives, Giordano said, adding that the move "places a significant distraction on our sailors, and ultimately may negatively impact our competitive edge in our continuous efforts to maintain maritime superiority."
Two other concerns tie into the PCS issue, Giordano said: the availability of child care, and the ability of spouses to find desirable employment in a new location.
"Child care wait times continue to be a challenge, specifically in the fleet concentration areas," he said. Because some Navy families are unable to get military child care, they're forced to go to the civilian community where child care is more expensive.
Airmen: Smaller force, same mission. For airmen, the top issue is the high operational tempo, said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright.
"We're the smallest Air Force we've ever been, and there are many challenges that come with the high ops tempo and multiple deployments" around the globe, said Wright, who stated that following through with plans for personnel increases was critical.
The second top concern, he said, is issues with pay and compensation, such as changes that are being considered to the basic allowance for housing, and the new Blended Retirement System that will be implemented in 2018.
Only troops entering the service as of Jan. 1, 2018, will be automatically enrolled in the new system; those already on active duty are grandfathered into the old system, although those with less than 12 years of service will have the ability to choose to participate in the new system.
His third top concern from the field, he said, is a combination of child care challenges and spouse employment challenges.
Marines: Installation issues. Forward units will always be taken care of, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green said, but there's a concern about degradation of programs, facilities and services at the installation level, such as barracks, gyms and fitness. For Marine families, the availability of child care, and the quality of children's schools, are important, as are employment problems for spouses such as the difference in licensing and credentialing requirements from state to state.
Transition is another top concern, Green said, noting that there are gaps in programs designed to allow separating military members "to step out of the service, whether it's after four years or 40, and go out in society and actually make an impact on Day 1."
Among the problems are differences in states' licensing and credentialing requirements, which can affect both service members and military spouses.
Soldiers: SMA's priority list: Dailey said the Army's quality of life has to be addressed from a total force perspective. The Army's first priority now is building readiness, "and that is directly related to quality of life," Dailey said.
"The long-term impact is what is concerning," Dailey said. "If we continue to be placed in positions where we must choose benefits or training, we will certainly lose out on quality and talent down the road."
The second priority, he said, is "being cognizant of the future of the Army" in all aspects, from modernization to making sure that home stations and bases are prepared to support soldiers and families.
The third priority is providing soldiers and families with the necessary tools and means to be able to maintain a good quality of life, "because we're asking a lot of our young service members now."
Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.