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Commissioner defends proposal for drill duty

Feb. 21, 2008 - 01:57PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 21, 2008 - 01:57PM  |  
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Defense officials reacted angrily when a congressionally appointed commission recommended Jan. 31 that the Pentagon should replace the traditional 48 drills per year for reservists with 24 days of active duty, saying that would amount to a 50 percent cut in pay for reservists.

But that conclusion, included in a Feb. 1 briefing at the Pentagon, is a faulty interpretation of the proposal, said a member of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.

"I hope that press conference was held early after the report was released, and they hadn't had a chance to read it, and misinterpreted that recommendation," Commissioner Patricia Lewis said in a Feb. 13 interview.

Or, perhaps, defense officials read only the 432-page report's short executive summary, which presents but two paragraphs of discussion on an issue that is given more than six pages in the main report.

The drill recommendation, one of 95 in the final report, calls for a combination of changes aimed at simplifying and streamlining reserve duty and pay.

The commission called for reducing the current number of duty statuses from 29 to two — on and off active duty; all reserve duty should be considered active duty, the report said.

On the drill pay issue, the commission proposal is based on the fact that reservists who drill one weekend a month normally are credited with two drills each day — but they receive the equivalent of a day of active-duty pay for each drill, a total of four days of active-duty pay.

Lewis pointed out that in calling for giving reservists a day of pay for a day of work, the commission also proposed other compensation to "prevent the reserve member from losing out-of-pocket income under this system."

The commission suggested some sort of incentive pay and giving reservists active-duty-style benefits for drilling. Currently, reservists receive basic allowance for housing and subsistence only when activated for annual training. Weekend drill duty is not considered active duty.

"They ought to receive the same compensation package when they are on active duty," Lewis said.

At the Feb. 1 news briefing, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale was pointed in his criticism.

"When read carefully and accurately, what is proposed ... is a 50-percent cut in reserve pay," he said. "The drilling reservist will receive, for the same duty, half the pay he is currently receiving if this recommendation is accepted. To achieve the same level of pay, a reservist ... would have to put in twice as many days of duty during the course of the year.

"We believe that's a mistake," McHale said. "We believe that it is precisely the wrong message to be sent to National Guardsmen and reservists. ... Their compensation ought not be cut. Moreover, on a practical level, to cut the training compensation of reservists in half would be counterproductive to our ongoing recruiting efforts."

The commission said the number of duty statuses should be reduced because they "are confusing and frustrating to both the reserve component and their operational commanders. The current operational environment demands simplicity, compatibility and administrative clarity to meet training and mission requirements."

The commission acknowledged that turning 48 drills into 24 days of active duty is controversial, but said such controversy cuts both ways. If reservists and active-duty members work side by side on a given weekend, for example, active members might resent reservists earning two days' pay to their one. Conversely, the commission said, the same service members might be off duty the following weekend, and reservists might resent that active-duty members are essentially being paid for a day off.

The commission noted that a 2004 Pentagon study of reserve compensation concluded that "transitioning to a system in which, like active-duty members, a day of duty is a day of duty would make it much easier to employ Guard and reserve members. It would also help reduce frustration experienced by combatant commanders when they want to employ reserve component members."

The Pentagon "should do some analysis to see how they would get there," Lewis said, adding that more than two duty statuses might ultimately be required.

"It was never our intention to cut anyone's pay in half," Lewis said. "We don't want to hurt anybody. We recognize how important [the Guard and reserve] are. We want to make things more simple."

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