Guest view: Cuts have real effect for those in uniform

April 5, 2014 

In December, the U.S. Air Force announced several force management programs (military jargon for trimming the number of employees on the books) aimed at cutting 25,000 Airmen and 900 civilians during the next five years. Regardless of whether you think it's the fault of Republicans, Democrats, the Congress or our President, this is today's reality that we all have to face about the budget -- it's being cut, and the size of our military is going to be cut with it.

Let's hope that someone in Washington, D.C., remembers that these are real men and women who are being affected by these changes, and that some system of career counseling, resume writing support and additional training is set up to better help them transition to civilian life.

These military layoffs don't come as a huge surprise. For the past six years, many politicians and pundits have argued that the federal deficit needs to be cut. Because of the increased efforts of these officials, the budget has shrunk every year since 2009, including being slashed by nearly $300 billion last year alone.

These cuts are having a real effect on the men and women in uniform. A current proposal that has gained bipartisan support in Congress would limit pay raises to the military to just 1 percent this year, the lowest raise offered since 1962 and the first time in decades that it did not at least match inflation. Already, politicians on both sides of the aisle have agreed to downsize the number of military personnel, citing both the federal deficit as well as the decrease in the number of people deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the end, thousands of service men and women will soon be out of a job. Accordingly, reports have come out of Scott Air Force Base stating they has begun taking voluntary separation requests for enlisted airmen and depending on the numbers needed to "balance the books," the USAF will conduct its "first-ever" force review and retention boards for enlisted personnel. Additionally, officers will be subject to force shaping boards, enhanced early retirement boards and voluntary separation requests.

So what are these departing airmen and civilians going to do with the next phase of their lives?

Many of them have unique skills and capabilities, but many don't have the degrees that many civilian employers will ask for when reviewing their resumes. Let's hope that amid all this budget slashing, we remember that these are real people who are being asked to leave their chosen career earlier than planned and enhanced career counseling, educational and retraining programs are needed to help them transition back to civilian life (a transition that is coming sooner than many predicted).

Fortunately, some institutions are already poised to help, like the one I currently work for, Webster University. A private, non-profit institution, it has for the past 40 years offered special tuition rates to those with military backgrounds to take them to the next step with undergraduate completion and graduate degree programs to make them more desirable to civilian employers.

Programs offered at Scott include master's degrees in management, human resources, international relations, and business, to name a few. Webster isn't alone. Maryville University also offers an MBA program at Scott, and Southwestern Illinois College offers several undergraduate programs just outside of Scott's gates. When coupled with tuition assistance or earned VA benefits, education is a guaranteed way to boost one's networking connections and increase one's global awareness and marketability to the new civilian world of today while still keeping educational costs low.

Some governments also have programs to help transitioning vets. For example, the Missouri Governor's Office established the "Show Me Heroes" program in 2010, which helps veteran's identify companies that have policies of giving preferential hiring to those with military service. This is great, but it only helps those in Missouri.

What is ultimately needed is a comprehensive federal assistance program that offers all our vets the same information and access to the same programs. In the end, these folks deserve the very best strategies to allow them to succeed in their next chosen careers. Let's do the right thing and place their post-military success above politics.

Mike Callan, of O'Fallon, is a retired Air Force brigadier general and associate vice president for military and governmental programs at Webster University.

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