4.14.14 Update: The Marine Corps Times recently interviewed Sergeant Major Barrett regarding my open letter below. Discover my response to that article here.


Let me start with stating that I have a lot of respect for you. I think you are without a doubt, one of the best Sergeant Majors this Corps has seen. But I’m greatly disheartened by your testimony provided to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel yesterday.

I read the Marine Corps Times article with the following:

“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.”  … “In my 33 years, we’ve never had a better quality of life,” Barrett said. “We’ve never had it so good.”

I was blown away by your words. Maybe it’s because I’m not a Marine. But I’m part of your Marine Corps family. I’m married to a mustang; a Marine who has faced 3 combat deployments to include Fallujah and Now Zad in the Helmand Province and was a Leftwich award finalist.

I wanted to know for myself if your words were taken out of context, so I watched and transcribed your testimony below with my thoughts.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of NY asks the Sgt Majors & Chief Master Sergeant of their respective services:

The department has proposed a number of compensation and benefit related proposals, although we haven’t seen the full details. They’re basically 1% pay raise for most military personnel rather than the 1.8% that would take effect under current law. One year pay freeze for General and Flag Officers, flight reduction, the growth of housing allowances over time as such that servicemembers will pay 5% of their housing costs out of pocket, phased reduction by one billion of the annual direct subsidy provided by military commissaries down from the current subsidy of 1.4 billion. Increase in Tricare enrollment fees and pharmacy co-pays and consolidation of the Tricare health programs.

Secretary Hagel testified two weeks ago that the savings from these proposals would be reallocated to address readiness and modernization shortfalls. As I said in my opening statement, these proposals will be difficult for many of us on this committee to support. I’m particularly concerned that we are not waiting for the Military Compensation Retirement and Modernization Commission which is tasked with taking a comprehensive look at these benefits.

This is for each of you to answer as you see fit. What will the impact of the changes be on our servicemembers, especially our lower enlisted troops and families? What are you currently hearing from the enlisted ranks what the biggest concerns about these cuts? How important is the commissary benefit in particular to our most junior servicemembers? Is there another way to deal with the commissaries? And will the enactment of these proposals harm recruiting and retention?

Your Response to Senator Gillibrand:

… “Ma’am to go right to the very heart of your question… first of all Marines don’t run around and ask in, what’s on their mind is compensation benefits or retirement modernization. That’s not on their minds. As I walk around and talk to the thousands of audiences, they want to know, and to whose neck do we put a boot next?

When I hear you talk about the Marines you’re meeting with, I think about those Marine NCOs whose primary concern has been amending the ‘sleeves rolled’ policy. These Marines are hard-chargers, yes, but these are the same ones living in the barracks, living it up on payday weekends, and the next weekend spent on marathon Xbox sessions because they’re broke. They’re living with limited tunnel vision.

They want to know about what new equipment are we getting? Are we continuing to modernize? Are we not going to, you know, just because the budget sucks, does that mean that we’re not going to get any more gear? Are we going to stay ahead of our competitors?

These are the kind of questions the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps should be getting asked.  Let’s look at who your audience is, they’re going to ask Marine-centric questions, not questions about Congress’ decisions or budget demands. Besides, who wants to look like a whiner in front of the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps?

And the other thing they always ask is about is, they want to know about training. We’re a force that has a bias for action and we’re a happy lot when we’re deployed. Idle hands are not good in the Marine Corps.  Keep us out there forward deployed just like our moniker tells us, that’s where we need to be.

No Marine wants to stay out of their fight, “first to fight” – this will always be on a Marine’s mind no matter the tempo or budget, I whole heartedly agree.

I realize the Marine Corps don’t want someone to join the Corps for college tuition or benefits. They should join the Corps because they want to be a warfighter. That comes with pride, motivation and the other intangibles. However, to get our Marines to STAY, they need those benefits they were promised when they signed on the dotted line to serve.

That’s what’s on their mind actually. Yeah I’ll tell you promotion, retention, and money does eventually come up, but it’s not in the top 3, it’s normally four, five, six or seven.

I started USMC Life because the Marine Corps wasn’t meeting our family’s needs. I felt I could do something to help as a spouse, but I do realize that my site isn’t the one all, be all, but it’s another opportunity for our families to connect with others and receive information — just as our USMC services are not perfect.

I can tell you based on the feedback I’ve received, that promotions and force reduction are on everyone’s minds as well as budget cuts. The almost 40,000 Marines who are being affected by downsizing have served our country during this wartime conflict are taking early retirement packages, moving onto civilian opportunities on their own accord, but many are being forced out.

Many wanted to retire from the Corps and are now being dealt a set of new cards after years of family sacrifice. Are we going to have a more competitive Corps in the long run? Yes, but it is still costing our Marine Corps families today.

And to get to the point about what Sgt Major already said, if we do not get a hold of slowing the growth, if we do not pay a little bit more attention to the healthcare that we so generously have received wonderful packages, in my 33 years, I have never seen this level of quality of life. Ever. We have never had it so good.

Quality of life is a broad statement.

Quality of housing: Yes.Our Marine Corps and armed services have had an influx of funds because of the war. Our first home on MCB Camp Pendleton was built in 1966 with little improvements. Since privatized housing took over, they’ve demolished old buildings that were filled with mold, rodents and needed vast improvements. This goes along with our barracks as well. Our Marines were living in barracks that were condemned years earlier. Most of the barracks have been refitted or completely rebuilt to offer suitable housing for our Corps. Is it perfect? No, but we’re light years ahead of where we were pre 9/11.

Quality of equipment: Yes. Our Corps has seen improvement in warfighting gear, machinery, and weapons.

Family Life: No. Our families have endued deployment after deployment. Families grow weary of workups and war. Our kids while resilient, are continually left wondering if mommy or daddy will return home after the next conflict. Their friends at schools have parents who have died, or return home as a double or triple amputee. They live and see this daily on base.  They also deal with transition and say goodbye to the life they once knew. Our son is in third grade, in his third school.

Our Marines are forward deployed with several years of little communication home. Most Americans think that our Marines can call home when they want or Skype with their families. That’s simply not the case. My Marine has never Skyped home. We watched his platoon fighting live in Iraq on TV when the war first broke out. We had to wait more than a month before he could call and say he was okay. Seeing war on TV and social media takes a toll on families.

Single friends of ours are leaving the Corps because they aren’t given an opportunity to start family. You want to talk about retention? Some of our best SNCO’s and Officers with families who have lead on the battlefield against our enemies are leaving because they are tired of being jerked around by our government and desire quality family life.

When environments are not met with high enough levels of satisfaction to ‘make the juice worth the squeeze’ you will be left with second and third best in command. We don’t want to see that on the battlefield and in the end it will cost America its sons and daughters.

What about the drastic toll that is being taken on our caregivers who have sacrificed their careers and lives to take care of their wounded warriors. Have they seen a better quality of life?

We have stood at the grave alongside our friends whose husbands died in the line of duty and helped them cope with their loss as best we could. We have said goodbye to loved ones who served alongside our husbands. To say that these families have never had life so good is costly.

To date, my husband has lost more Marines to suicide than he lost at war. Both Battalions lost 20 men each in the fight.

Clearly our Marines and family members have seen better days.

And I say that point because if we don’t get a hold of slowing the growth, we will become an entitlements based, a health care provider based Corps, and not a war-fighting organization if we don’t stop, step back and take a look at hey, 1% pay? That makes sense because our quality of life is good.  Hey you know what? Out of pocket? You know what? I truly believe it will raise discipline. And it will raise it because you’ll have better spending habits. You won’t be so wasteful.

I do believe in the one Tricare model because there will be savings and it’ll be less administrative, admin burdened , on those that have to perform all those things.

This is simply not the case. I serve on the MOAA (Military Officer Association of America) Spouse Council and we stormed the Hill yesterday to fight for military benefits and Tricare. Your words were the complete opposite of what we were fighting for.

If we move to one model, the care received will be impacted greatly. We already see a substantial wait to see healthcare providers for care and referrals. If we move to one model, we actually lose the promise of ‘access for care’ and those weeks could easily turn into months on end before appointments become available.

When it comes to co-pays, it’s just not that simple. Our families will have to make choices between paying the electric bill or that co-pay for a nagging cough. They’ll pay the electric bill. Maybe they’ll even treat their kids to a movie instead because their daddy or mommy has been deployed for 6+ months or busy with workups and hasn’t spent any time with them. How will our families who qualify for food stamps be affected with co-pays?

Preventative treatment will become a thing of the past and our family members will resort to only treating more serious cases, which will end up costing our government more money in the long run.

And you know, should there be some type of subsidiary, subsidy reduction to the commissary,  you already heard the Sgt Major of the Army talk about it, I’m sure there’s a better model out there. But in the grand scheme of things, if we don’t get a hold of this, it’s going to impact our warfighting capability, it’s going to impact our investment for the next challenge. And like I said, we might be done in Afghanistan,  with the people we’re fighting, but they’re not done with us. And we need to be more prepared for what’s around the corner.

No one is disputing our warfighting capabilities, but a happy medium must be found. Other services need to become more like the Corps and budget conscious.

Just look at the billions of dollars wasted in uniforms alone when each service developed its own cammo uniform pattern. In a Military.com article, “Critics allege that the Army has wasted $5 billion on uniforms and equipment all printed in the inadequate UCP. The GAO estimates that the Army will have to spend another $4 billion on uniforms and equipment over the next five years when it selects its new family of camouflage patterns.”

The Corps made ours both cost effective with superior quality. This is where penny pinching needs to come into play, not into our family and quality of life programs. The budget should not be balanced on our military member’s backs.

Your remarks were followed by the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force who stated:

… “I want to be real clear that our Airmen are not overpaid. So this discussion we’re having about compensation in the military is not because we feel they are overpaid, they have earned everything that they have received today. All servicemen and women and their family have, they have sacrificed.. but I fully support our budget because at the end of the day, if you want real feedback from our airmen and their families and what they want, they don’t want to have a conversation about compensation; they just want you to give us more money so we don’t have to… they’re going to go fight their nation’s war. They will do it, regardless. That’s what makes them so special.  But make no mistake about it, that this has impact…

Sgt Major Barrett, again, I have countless respect for you, but I would also welcome a conversation about what our families are facing today. I’d ask you to review MOAA’s documentation with how our families will be affected by the proposed budget cuts.

Thank you for your service and sacrifice to our great nation.

Marine Spouse and Founder of usmclife.com

This article was originally published at USMC Life.