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Editorial Comment — September 2014

Reckoning Time ...

As we enter our 53rd year of publication, and Congress is back in session for a week or two, we can only wish — urge, cajole and implore — that all the efforts military families, service organizations, retiree organizations, veterans organizations, associations and benefit advocacy groups have put into preserving and enhancing servicemember benefits will not have been in vain.

There's been so much dedication to this mission in so many quarters, and such a great deal of energy expended, that we hope it has finally hit its mark — that the government's budget-cutters will understand how critical these non-pay benefits are to many on the front lines as well as those on the home front.

Let's also hope the 114th Congress, about to be elected, will have a strong sense of what commissaries and exchanges mean to military patrons, bases and communities when the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission presents its report to them in February 2015.

For that matter, let's hope the Commission itself has by now developed a keen sense of the importance of the benefits servicemembers, retirees and their families have earned.

When the Commission's report emerges, it will be a time of reckoning — a time when members of Congress will need to stand up and be counted as among those who would do right by the troops.

It's time for them to take the lead in sending the military community a positive message about its benefits; to show our nation's military, their families and future recruits that they have their backs.


Look Elsewhere ...

For months on end, our military services have endured the threat of cuts to their benefits and pressures of force reductions among their ranks.

Funding for commissary operations, shipping of resale merchandise overseas, housing allowances, cost of living allowances, Tricare and other benefits have all been under siege, and hang in the balance in the 2016 and future budget cycles.

And where are we today? Once again, looking for young men and women to enlist or re-enlist, and probably return to fight in one or another of the new conflicts that flare up month after month around the world.

Although there may be fewer boots on the ground in Afghanistan right now, and the administration is trying to avoid any impression that land forces might be engaged in battles ”anywhere else, troops, special operators and “military advisors” are already in harm's way. Military people continue to hold up their end of the bargain, and after 13 years of constant sacrifice, it's just not right that their reward is a kick in the shins.

Exchange and commissary patrons were stung — financially and emotionally — by the whiplash their resale benefits experienced as a result of the legislative fiascos of summer and fall 2013. Staffing was thinner on the sales floor, furloughs made stores look anemic, and (though they picked the shelves clean before the government shutdown) it was a slap in the face to customers when commissaries were forced to close completely for five days. Without those second-stop shoppers, exchanges suffered collateral damage as well.

All of this because of two examples of manifest government stupidity completely outside of resale's control, and eminently avoidable. If any lesson was learned in Congress, it should be that no future furlough/shutdown action should occur under any circumstances (and that sequestration belongs in the trash).

But the road ahead is not exactly strewn with olive branches of peace and security. The world is more dangerous than ever. Afghanistan, the Pakistan borderlands, Iraq, Syria and its neighbors, the edges of the Sahara, the Horn of Africa, the Pacific Rim, North Korea, Iran, Ukraine, Russia, China ... even the drug-fueled conflicts of Central and South America ... these types of tensions and conflicts are not going away anytime soon. And it's no comfort that most of them are half a world away; technology brings them to our very doorstep. The military must remain on a perpetual state of high alert.

If the government expects warfighters' undivided, undistracted attention to important duty, it might be a wise move to shore up military family support, and look at other areas than the military to cut costs. It's time to put away the fancy speeches and stay true to the benefits they were promised when they signed up.

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