Recruitment, Retirement, and Retention – Oh My

May 05 2015

Published by under Uncategorized

I’ve been holding off on this topic because the thought of elected officials with pensions working with policy wonks who don’t know a PCS from a POV on how to pull back the current military pension system irks me.

Congress is considering implementing a TSP styled 401k style investment program with matching contributions (though I don’t know how much, but it can’t be too generous given that they’re cutting the current retirement program to save money) and a pension portion that is scaled back by 20% of the current system.

I’m really surprised about starting to shift a pension based retirement program toward a 401k given that we have a Democrat in office who should understand the value of a pension styled plan over a 401k – stats show that 401k recipients aren’t ready for retirement as opposed to retirees in a pension based program. And the government should work to ensure that our retired military are financially prepared. Military members, like first responders (and maybe more so to some extent), have jobs that are out of the ordinary with many negative aspects – this is why we have the current retirement program after 20 years: to help compensate for the unique aspects of a military career.

Plus, we know this 20% figure will be cut in the future now that the floodgates are open.

Which leads me to my next concern – the ability to recruit and retain. Defense officials want to attract “young cyberwarriors” (http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/news/state/south-carolina/article19785774.html) who will want to “stay for 20 years.” So, scaling the retirement benefits will help retain and recruit?

The current program is what keeps members for 20 years. When my wife hit ten years, it was the retirement that kept us in – there was too much to lose getting out at 10 years. But with a lessened retirement program, members will have less incentive to stay. Plus, what better way to attract young cyberwarriors or any other young man or woman than to have a retirement program that is unequalled in the private sector (as the current one is)?

MOAA is working the Hill to let Congress know what military members really think. And we’ve had success this past year stopping other cuts in benefits, so hopefully our advice will be listened to again. Here is a link to MOAA’s Annual Report outlining the past year’s efforts to stop Congress cutting members’ benefits (it’s a good read): http://www.moaa.org/annualletter/

I’ve said enough. What are your thoughts readers? Should the military “modernize” their retirement program?

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College Bound Milkid

Apr 24 2015

I’ve written about the college application process and our family’s adventures into it quite a bit. Hopefully our experience and the advice from Kerri at Anchor Collegiate helped out future college bound milkids. But given with the approaching May 1 deposit deadline for college bound kids to select their school, I thought I’d update you on our son Joe’s choice and offer a final bit of ROTC advice.

Joe finally chose Boston University with his Air Force ROTC scholarship for a Foreign Language major. It came down to BU, George Washington U, and Saint Louis U. The deciding factor however was how much BU helps ROTC cadets with a Type 2 scholarship. A Type 2 provides $18,000 toward tuition (plus expenses but no room or board) and BU offers supplemental grants to Type 2 ROTC students to help with the first year’s tuition and to make up the difference in years 2 – 4 between the ROTC scholarship money and BU’s tuition. They also provide a supplemental grant to cover “room” but not “board.”

This news leads me to my advice if your milkid is considering ROTC: Research schools and find out which offer supplemental grants and aid for ROTC cadets. For instance, some offer room and board money for all ROTC recipients, while others offer differing amounts for STEM majors and Type 2 scholarship holders. Most don’t offer any supplemental dollars, but some do so it is good to be aware of this when considering schools since every little bit helps.

Also, be aware that the merit or needs based scholarship(s) your milkid is awarded might be decreased or eliminated if an ROTC scholarship is awarded. This doesn’t sound right, but it did happen to Joe at one of the schools he was accepted at. It almost seems like penalizing someone because she or she wants to serve their country.

So then, if ROTC is in your milkid’s future, do your research – both into the specifics of each services’ ROTC program and into colleges and what supplemental aid they may offer to ROTC students.

And, check out and “like’ Anchor Collegiate’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AnchorCollegiate?fref=ts) – Kerri has great info on college admissions, plus you can see the schools her clients have been accepted at.

Finally, one interesting thing I did find out from the college research was where the term “board” comes from, as in “room and board.” In the olden days (before I was even born), people who rented rooms were given a board to place across their laps to eat or work on. Thus “room and board.” Thanks to the Financial Office at BU for that interesting tidbit.

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Milkids, Preparing for College, and High School Courses

Apr 08 2015

Published by under school is in session

As my oldest is weighing his ROTC and college options, my next oldest is stepping into the college admissions fray. It’s like it’s out with one and in with the other.

Anna will be a junior next year and has set her sites on some colleges where she’d like to study Math and Astronautical Engineering – as well as looking at Air Force ROTC.

Where does that put her (and us) in the college application preparation process, you ask? Well, to help put her in a good position to be competitive for admission, as well as for ROTC and scholarships, she needs to look at the rigor of her class load the next two years. And this is the time to think about class load because she’s registering for her junior classes.

However, this decision is probably more important for current juniors because there is a tendency to take it easy during senior year (senioritis, I have enough math credits, etc.). So then, what better topic for a column this week than some college admission advice for milfams with rising seniors.

Naturally, for some insight, I turned to my favorite college counselor and expert, Kerri Beckert – mil spouse and owner of Anchor Collegiate, where she helps guide kids and families through the competitive college admissions and application labyrinth.

Her comment about rising seniors and the importance of class rigor was this:

“Students see the end game as graduation: ‘what will it take for me to graduate from High School?’ And many times High School Counselors are more concerned with that also. However, parents and students should be looking at college and university websites, asking during campus visits, and emailing to ask: ‘What courses did students who were accepted at your institution take in High School?’ The end game is not graduation. The end game is college preparedness and acceptance.”

Sage advice, but probably not what most students want to hear about their senior year.

Classes are very important to selective schools, and preparing for this even applies to middle school. Setting up your milkid so that he or she is taking Algebra in 8th grade can mean that he or she can take AP Stats or some higher math in 12th grade.

Kerri has a great blog on this topic here: http://www.anchorcollegiate.blogspot.de/2014/08/mind-gap-part-one-how-gap-between-high.html

Also, “like” her Facebook page, it has a lot of good info for milfams trying to navigate the college admissions process and trying to find the right fit of a school for their milkid. You can find Kerri’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AnchorCollegiate?fref=ts

Oh, and I will add that she also advises that if your milkid is taking solid coursework, a study hall is not seen as a bad thing. I’m kind of glad of that because the extra time lets my kid get to sleep by 11 or so.

Now that the issue of class load is covered, my next area to think about is summer programs for Anna, but ones that she enjoys.

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Milfams and Society

Mar 27 2015

Published by under roadside adventures

wahl_mar27

It’s a great Spring Break for us. My son and his partner started the Break by winning the State Championships in Public Forum Debate; and, now, we’re at Steamboat Springs doing some skiing and writing (as you can tell by the photo). It is beautiful up here and a great break. But, one of the reasons we can swing this trip is because some of the Colorado ski resorts offer a discounted annual ski pass for retired and active duty – including family.

I bring this up because of an opinion piece in the Washington Post about entitlements to military families and how they are uncalled for. The author is a retired Army LtCol who owns a couple of smoothie shops in South Carolina (along with being the Director of Strategic Studies at Silverback7), and who wrote this piece due to a milspouse copping a bit of an attitude when told that the smoothie shop only offered discounts to active duty military and not spouses (or retirees apparently). Mr. Duffy also feels that most veteran hiring preferences should be eliminated. Pretty controversial stuff, but fitting for the MOAA audience here.

You can find the opinion piece here<http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/03/16/opinion-no-room-for-sense-of-entitlement-among-veterans-and-military-families/> or here<http://www.stripes.com/opinion/enough-with-the-entitlement-among-veterans-and-military-families-1.335477>. It’s fun to read both in order to read the different comment sections. Speaking of which, the comments get pretty good. There is the argument from an enlisted spouse who reasons that she and her active duty spouse live on one income, so the argument that “we only offer a discount to the active duty member” is a bit unfair (I can see that). Or there is the commenter who dug up Mr. Duffy’s LinkedIn account to find he works with vet-owned businesses doing business with the government – and questions if this isn’t an entitlement (of course, Mr.. Duffy did not want to eliminate “all” vet preferences, just “most”).

But, the author raises an interesting question about entitlements. I agree that military spouses shouldn’t have an attitude when there is no discount. It’s a free country and businesses can offer what they want. Heck, I remember living in the DC area in the early 2000’s and no one offered a discount – it wasn’t expected.

However, if a business is going to offer a discount to the active duty member, why not the milspouse? They are one family and usually with one income. And why not the retied military member? Many served when there was no discount.

And the author borders on the edge of hypocrisy. For instance, the website of the firm he works for states that the firm is vet owned. Are they getting government business due to being vet owned? Or did Mr.. Duffy take advantage of any vet preferences when buying or financing his smoothie franchise. Perhaps not, but it would be interesting to know – or spell out specifically what “most” entitlements he’d like to see eliminated.

In any event, what do MOAA readers think about this issue? We’d love to hear your thoughts – post a reply below.

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Random Military Life Thoughts

Mar 22 2015

Published by under military matters

I thought for an end-of-week column I’d ruminate about some millife items I’ve come across in my readings.

First, a rather progressive and impressive quality of life initiative was introduced by the Air Force in their new Career Intermission Program (CIP). Under CIP, Air Force members can take up to a 3-year sabbatical where they put their careers on hold while starting a family, caring for a family member, going to grad school, or pursue some other personal goal. So far 32 airmen have taken advantage of the program and will receive 1/15th of their usual pay. You can read more about this program.

Next up, apparently a Marine wife was not saluted when she came onto base an this spurred DoD to take action. As a result, they have created a Military Spouse Rank Chart. Ranks range from S1 to S9 and include Spouse First Class, First Spouse, and, my favorite, Spouse Recruit.

Of course this is all satire. you can read about it in the DuffleBlog. It’s a funny read.

Finally, you probably know that unless Congress acts, Tricare will have to cut payments yo doctors by 21%. This cut could result in fewer doctors seeing Tricare patients. To help stop this, use MOAA’s Action Alert to send an email to your Senators and Representative. Fill out the required info to have an email sent off to your elected officials. MOAA has set up the Action Alert so that there is a precomposed message (which you can edit or add to) and that the message will automatically go to your Senators and Representative.

I used their Take Action tool the other week to let my elected representatives know that we shouldn’t be cutting the budget on the back of military members. It worked like a dream. I even had replies from my Senators and Representative. Rep Doug Lamborn replied with a message endorsing my MOAA message and telling me what he planned to do. On the other hand, the newly elected Senator from Colorado sent me a reply as well. It was a nice reply, but it had nothing to do with the message I sent. Oh we’ll, at least I tried.

 

 

 

 

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A Milkid’s ROTC Application Journey

Mar 06 2015

Published by under lessons learned

ROTC can be a great option for many kids. If successful, it can pay for most or all of the college tuition (not including room & board); fees; books; and a monthly stipend. Plus, an ROTC scholarship can be a great way for a high school student to be able to attend a school he or she might not have been able to afford otherwise.

And, it leads to a great career (right everyone?!). Even with a 4 or 5 year commitment, that isn’t a lot of years for a college grad. Think about: Many grads take a job, maybe in another city, and after 4 or 5 years realize that the job wasn’t right for them – maybe it was the employer, the location, the type of job. In any event, committing to a 4 or 5 year military career is not that more stringent or different from what happens to most grads.

My son Joe has been successful with both the Air Force and Navy ROTC applications. So, in thinking of any readers who might have a milkid considering applying for an ROTC scholarship, he has stepped in again to provide a little insight into the ROTC process:

If you are applying to ROTC for a scholarship, begin the process as early as August or September. I heard this advice but didn’t take it seriously. I assumed it was just for the sake of finishing early. The truth is, the earlier you complete the application you increase you chances exponentially. Application boards, whose frequencies of meeting vary between services, review the applications and if an application is not selected, it is passed to the next board. The earlier an application is received, the more boards it sees. The deadline listed on the application is an illusion. It accounts for the latest an application can be received in order to meet the very last Board.

As a side note to specifically address Navy ROTC, you are NOT finished with the application when you submit the application. After you hit ‘submit’ you will still need to submit various forms, scores, and letters. It is much more complicated than the Air Force application, but can also be worth much more money. This is another reason to finish very early, so that you have the weeks required to be contacted, send in information, confirm, schedule an interview, and have your interviewer write an assessment.

I would also add that another advantage to starting the process in Spring of Junior year (in addition to hitting as many boards as possible). By meeting the early boards, there is less competition. Why you may ask? Well, think of how your milkid addresses deadlines – usually right before the deadline, right. That is the same with most ROTC candidates – there is a flood of them in December right before the final due date. Therefore, the boards with the most applications are in January and beyond. The ones in August have the fewest number of applications. Makes sense, right?

Finally, everyone should go to the ROTC websites for the services they want to apply to. The process is we’ll explained and they answer all of your possible questions. But if you do have a question, please post it below.

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A Milkid’s College Application Journey

Mar 04 2015

Published by under lessons learned

collegeadmissions_WEBAs you will recall, my son Joe is a senior in high school and I’ve been writing about the college application process in hopes that my experience will help readers who have college bound kids in the high school pipeline.

At this point, we’ve completed the Common Application, the CSS Financial Aid Profile, additional essays that some schools required, ROTC apps, and other assorted methods of teen/parent torture.

I haven’t written about the college application process for awhile, so I thought I’d return to that topic. But instead of my voice, Joe has written a couple of tips for current high school juniors and sophomores. Next week, he’ll add come insights into the ROTC process.

Senior year has been an experience for me that almost rivals Germany and Japan. It is the resolution to all of my hard work in high school, and the beginning of independence. It can be daunting, especially to an oldest child. The thought that these past few months and the upcoming ones may very well determine my life’s trajectory is intimidating; the seemingly impossible process of it all only makes it scarier. Based on this experience, I have discovered some tips on my own that would have proven helpful to me seven months ago, and can hopefully others along the same journey.

Firstly, the only way of truly judging a college or university is to tour it. There are multiple schools that I visited and only then did I see myself there. This advice is fairly common, but extremely accurate. Going to campus is really only half of the process; I strongly recommend student led tours and information seminars. They give you an insight into the nuances of schools that letters and websites cannot.

Secondly, look out for emails regarding an ‘express’ or ‘custom’ application. Schools will send perspective seniors an invitation to apply via a special application. The best ones exclude essays and application fees, which was very attractive for me. I got into six schools that I would not have otherwise thought of applying to because they sent me a “Pioneer” or “Choice” application. These are really helpful for the application process, especially if you want to apply all over the country but have no idea where.

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Question for MilMembers: When is a “Veteran” a “Combat Veteran”

Feb 20 2015

Published by under military matters

We have a good class of vets just elected to office, and they should bring a good perspective to the current crop of senators and representatives (and hopefully open the eyes of policy wonks and commissions looking into military issues as respects what a military member’s job and sacrifices really are like).

These new members include:

  • Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona who went to Harvard, joined the Marines, and was deployed to Iraq.
    Ryan Zinke, a Republican from Montana who is a former SEAL and retired from the Navy after 23 years.
  • Mark Takai, a Democrat from Hawaii who served in the HawaiiArmy National Guard (and he was the force behind the Hawaii Medal of Honor awarded to milfams of military members who lost their life in service.
  • Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York who served in the Army and was deployed to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne.
  • Seth Moutlon, a Democrat from Massachusetts (a Dem from Mass – that’s shocking!) who is another Harvard grad and served four tours in Iraq. This guy is interesting – you should read up on him. He’ll be going places.
  • Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who was an Army officer and served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois who was an officer in the Illinois National Guard and lost both her legs when the helicopter she was piloting was shot down. Interestingly, she is married to an Army Major who is talked of as a challenger for Illinois’ other Senator spot in 2016.

The one though who has spurred some controversy, at least as far as her military service goes, is Joni Ernst from Iowa (she’s the one who said she’ll “make em squeal” in Washington – I don’t quite know that that means, but it sounds good). What apparently has made some reporters and veterans squeal though, or comment on, is her repeating that she is a “combat veteran.” She has said this in campaign speeches and posts it on her website.

What stirred the criticism is that while she served in a “combat” zone (the Arabian peninsula), her unit was never attacked or in a firefight (she commanded a transportation company). Critics say that by using the phrase “combat veteran,” most people think of someone who was in a firefight – therefore, she is misleading the public. Or, as one vet put it, she is “using her military experience to gain a political edge and pull the wool over the eyes of the American people.”

On the other hand, her work was dangerous – patrolling a camp’s perimeter and driving supply convoys (which could have resulted in having taken fire).

So readers, could one of you answer: when is a “veteran” a “combat veteran?” Or, in this case: Is Ms. Ernst squealing (okay, a better word is misleading, but I just had to work that term back in somehow) a little too much by emphasizing she is a “combat veteran” as opposed to being a “veteran?”

An officer in the Army’s Press Office gave this opinion on the phrase and circumstances surrounding it’s use: “You’d clarify, and say ‘Sure, I had friends who were in firefights every day, and those are the guys you should roll out the red carpet for.'”

What do you think?

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Modernize, Civilianize – Just Cut the Benefits

Feb 11 2015

Published by under military matters

Exercise Enhanced Mojave ViperThe Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission’s (MCRMC) release of their report proposing changes to military benefits has started the usual stir, especially among those who really don’t understand the job and career of our troops.

From Market Watch comes an article questioning if we are too generous to military retirees. They rely a lot on comparisons between our military retirement program and those of NATO countries, and they quote economists at the Pension Policy Center saying we need to “modernize” our system based on what NATO countries are doing.

My problem with comparisons to our NATO allies is that the reports don’t consider the government provided social safety nets of these countries – ours are not as strong, and our system of 401ks leaves most people woefully unprepared for retirement. Saving costs by fully or partially replacing the current program with member led investment programs like 401ks will only contribute to this problem of inadequate retirement support. And I don’t think we want to see a bunch of retired vets working at a McDonald’s because their country didn’t provide an adequate retirement system.

Also, before we start considering cutting troop benefits based what NATO countries do, let’s first look into how these countries save costs through efficient operations and reduction of redundancies – such as having one medical corp for all services, along with other areas of operation that are shared by the three services. Or, do their troops move every 2 or 3 years? I’m sure there are other cost saving measure we could copy before having to cut troops’ benefits in order to balance the budget.

Looking into the future, we need to consider that future recruits, and troops considering re-upping, will be wondering: are the financial benefits of a military career and the sacrifices they sign up for in a military career worth the trade off? If not, there goes recruitment and retention.

MOAA wants to know your impressions of the commission’s recommendations. Take their survey: http://ow.ly/IKiWC

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Retirement, Recruitment, and Retention – oh my!

Feb 09 2015

Published by under military matters

At the top of MOAA Spouse’s Facebook page is this:

“Our leaders say they want reforms that aid recruitment and retention. Perhaps they don’t consider treatment of retirees essential to that purpose, but it is. Reducing benefits for those who have already served sends a clear message to present and future military members, that promises were made to be broken.”

So, MOAA wants your thoughts on the above. Please let them know what you’re thinking.

The impetus for this questions is the release of the report from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). MOAA is still reviewing the proposals, but now is your time to let MOAA know what you think. Use their Facebook page to post your thoughts so MOAA can tell Congress what milfams are thinking, or take the quick survey (available for a short time).

Additionally, the latest MOAA Military Officer magazine has a convenient pull-out that you can mail to your representative. It’s a preprinted letter that you just need to sign and mail. However, it does help to add a handwritten personal comment at the bottom of the letter. Personally, I wrote that these changes will drastically affect military recruitment and retention – and then I added 4 exclamation points!!!! So naturally, I expect action from my letters.

One of the changes being considered is to make the retirement system more civilian-like. Words such as “portability” and “individual investment” are thrown out, along with the claim that most members don’t get anything if they leave before 20 years. I think this change is a bad decision and that these phrases are hackneyed and off base.

First, this claim is not true because members have the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) they can participate in – and it is portable.

Second, members who leave make the choice to leave after weighing the pluses and minuses. Supporters of the portable retirement plan like to talk about how members can have choice in their retirement planning (as if the military now tells them “do not plan your retirement!”). Well, that “choice” is there for members to decide in leaving: should I stay and get a retirement at 20 years; or, should I leave with my TSP, no 20 year retirement – but, with a better job on the outside as respects their personal circumstances.

Finally, we can’t civilianize a retirement program for a career that is very un-civilianized. People sign up for a job where they will choose to put their life on the line and follow the restrictions and negative aspects of the military career due to promised benefits that need to exceed those of a civilian job (e.g., a better retirement program). It will be hard to recruit new military members if the benefits of a military career are the same as a civilian job, yet the risks and personal/family restrictions are greater. The same holds for retention. (I can hear the pitch now: “Hey man, the pay and benefits are the same as a civilian job, but here’s the exciting part: you may get killed, have to shut up about politics, do a rigorous annual PT test, move up or be kicked out…oh, and and move your family every 2 or 3 years. Can I get you a pen to sign here?”)

wavingflagFinally, portable and individualized 401ks are great buzzwords – but look around: in most cases these plans leave employees terribly under prepared for retirement. And we don’t want a bunch of military vets working at McDonalds in their retirement years. They deserve better for what they have sacrificed or what they promised to sacrificed if called upon to.

I’m happy if the government decides to add a better TSP type program, but keep the 20 year retirement if our leaders are honest about wanting to keep recruitment and retention at adequate levels. And for you my readers (yes, both of you), please go to MOAA and let your voices be known.

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