Md. troops in Iraq tell O'Malley of concern for benefits
Maryland National Guard members stationed in Iraq told Gov. Martin O’Malley on Tuesday that they were concerned about veterans’ retirement benefits in the current climate of fiscal austerity.
Defense is one of several areas that has come under scrutiny as Washington looks to balance its books. President Barack Obama has directed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to cut $450 billion from the Pentagon budget. The so-called Supercommittee, the panel of lawmakers charged with developing plans to reduce the deficit, could come up with additional reductions. And a failure by its members to reach an agreement would trigger deep cuts automatically.
Members of the Maryland guard’s 29th Combat Aviation Brigade spoke with O’Malley from Taji, Iraq, via Skype. When O’Malley asked if there was anything he could do for them, Col. David W. Carey spoke of the retirement benefits.
“Some of what’s being talked about as we pare down the budget … is constantly there is an article in there about adjusting their retirement system,” said Carey, commander of the brigade, which is based at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeeen Proving Ground.
He pointed to the soldiers who joined him on the call: Master Sgt. Iris Cruz of Harford County, in the service for 21 years; Chief Warrant Officer Gregory R. Turner of Elkton, in for 12 years; and Specialist Delvan Namar Anderson of Edgewood, in for three. He said they and others signed on with an understanding of the benefits they would receive after completing their service.
“It’s my hope that as a government we don’t go down and modify that retirement system midstream,” he said.
O’Malley told Carey he shared his concern.
“My sense is in the general public that people are starting to ask deeper and better questions in the face of this sort of strange, cut, cut, cut, cut, slash-and-burn, slash-and-burn sort of approach to the things that we can only do together, like supporting our armed forces,” he said. “And so I’d like to believe that as the public is starting to ask deeper questions, so, too, will their representatives.”
O’Malley has no formal role in federal spending, but said he had met “a few times” with members of the Supercommittee.
“With other governors, we’ve tried to make very clear that doing a bad deal, with huge cuts to priorities like the one you underscored for veterans retirement benefits and our armed forces, doing a bad deal would be worse than not doing any deal at all. …
“I’ll do my very best to communicate the importance of keeping faith with all of you who have taken 400 days away from your families to serve us.”
One hundred and twenty members of the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade were in the process of deploying to Iraq when Obama announced last month that the United States would withdraw all of its troops from the country by the end of the year.
They now are divided among Iraq, Kuwait and Fort Hood, Texas. It remains unclear whether they will come home or serve out the deployment elsewhere; Carey said they await further details.
“When the president said everybody would be home for the holidays, basically, we got to our soldiers, we got to our families as quickly as we could to say, ‘You know, we need to temper that message with, hey, we were deployed for 400 days.’ And everybody here is a soldier. They understand that, that that’s the order.
“So morale remains high. Everybody that’s recently deployed is excited to accomplish the mission. And we’re moving forward to whatever follow-on mission we have when we move south.”