The U.S. Department of Defense will significantly draw down its forces over the next five years despite the increasing threats from foreign and domestic terrorists. According to a recent AP article, “Senior Army officials are warning they may have to cut as many as 100,000 more soldiers over the next decade unless the automatic spending reductions forcing the military services to slash their budgets are stopped.” The Army is already planning to trim its ranks by 80,000 active duty troops due to previously planned budget reductions approved by Congress in 2011.
But these layoffs could actually prove beneficial to communities across the country – including Washington. If, and only if, we plan smartly.
The federal impact of this will result with an increasing number of Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) service members transitioning over the next five years in Washington State. The same goes for those in the Navy. While Army Secretary John McHugh told a Senate committee last Tuesday “the losses would undermine the service’s ability to be prepared for wartime missions,” the skills, training, and experiences of those who are let go could very well be positioned as an asset in times of crisis or disaster in our local communities.
Many service members transition without a plan, leading to $32 million-$35 million in unemployment benefits paid annually for Washington state residents. Washington state also has the distinct honor of consistently being one of the highest in the nation for service members receiving unemployment benefits immediately after leaving active duty (Lewis-McChord, 2012).
But what if we could trim these costs by getting some of our transitioning service members into a program that would leverage their experience with volunteer management, decontamination protocols, and crisis information management, and requires working with community-based companies and organizations to shore up response protocols? The cost-savings benefit to the Army and to the community could be substantial – not to mention the benefit of “being valued” to the veteran.
Most importantly, the communities would be better prepared and managed in times of crisis, despite what happens at the national level.
Bottom line: The Army’s share of the automatic cuts over the next six month is $7.6 billion – that is a big budget cut, no matter how you want to spin it. The cut will affect national readiness. But the end result could be a benefit to local communities if we position the strengths of the returning veterans to serve our hospitals and communities in times of crisis.
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.