Petty Officer 1st Class Lester Clifton bristled at a proposed overhaul to the military’s retirement system that would give troops a chance to retire after 10 years of service, but delay collection of payments for all until age 60.

“That’s a bad idea,” Clifton said.

Then he reflected on the proposed changes.

“That’s my first reaction. If I were to think about it some ... I’d say it’s a horrible, horrible deal,” said Clifton, a sailor with a cumulative 17 years’ military service.

This week, the Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation unveiled an altered retirement plan, in which drafters suggest building flexibility into the system by providing some financial compensation to those who serve in the military, but not put in a full 20 years.

Clifton might have benefited if the program existed a decade ago. After 12 years of service as a Marine helicopter mechanic, Clifton left for personal reasons. Five years later, in 2001, he rejoined, “not wanting to waste the 12 years I’d put in.”

“And I still think it’s a bad idea,” said the veteran stationed in Naples, Italy. “It just seems to me that the government is trying to make cuts to our benefits.”

Both Air Force Staff Sgt. Tania Jenkins and Senior Airman Amanda Villegas, with the 100th Mission Support Squadron out of RAF Mildenhall, England, said they would enlist today, even under the revamped plan.

“I like the stability, I like that it’s a job that you’re not going to get fired from unless you mess up,” Villegas said.

“I like the military life [and] the benefits that I have,” said Jenkins, a five-year veteran. Then again, she wouldn’t take the 10-year retirement option.

“I would go for the full 20 because ... I like the military lifestyle, benefits and the stability.”

Earning one-quarter of her basic pay “wouldn’t be worth it for me. My quality of life is so much better while in [the service].”

Staff Sgt. Nigel Pearce, of Darmstadt, Germany, said he would still enlist if the military followed through with the proposed changes. He said he thinks the retirement plan is a good idea.

“Without a doubt,” Pearce said. “That’s an incentive right there.”

The committee’s recommendation, due to the Pentagon in April, will be part of the Pentagon’s 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, a study mandated by law. If accepted, it would replace the current plan for new entrants, and be optional as an alternative for current members.

Currently, active-duty members must serve at least 20 years to earn retirement. They receive 2.5 percent of basic pay for each year served. They earn 50 percent of their basic pay for a 20-year career, and a maximum 75 percent for 30 years or more.

The idea of waiting until age 60 for retirement pay does not make a lot of sense to Army Spc. John Baker, with the 53rd Signal Battalion out of Landstuhl, Germany. Baker said he believes the program could hurt recruiting, and he probably would not enlist now if the program were in existence.

“Do you really want to wait 20 years to get paid what you’ve already earned?,” he asked. “I’d want my retirement pay when I retire.”

The waiting could put financial strains on troops who might have difficulty finding jobs once they leave the military, Baker noted.

“Do you really want to be pumping gas or [be] a greeter at Wal-Mart until your retirement kicks in?”

First Sgt. Michael Williams, a 22-year Army veteran stationed in Darmstadt, said waiting until 60 to collect retirement is a bad deal.

“I think that’s terrible, actually. ... I don’t think that’s fair,” Williams said.

With six years in, Sgt. Larry Gee, 25, already plans to do his 20, said the soldier with Company E, 123rd Main Support Battalion, stationed in Stuttgart, Germany.

He’d be 41 when he retires, and he doesn’t want to wait until he’s 60 to collect benefits.

By then, years of soldiering might be taking a toll on his body, he said.

“[Soldiering] takes a beating on you.”

Stars and Stripes reporters Seth Robson, Sean Kimmons, Steve Mraz and Scott Schonauer contributed to this report.

Military retirement plan draft

A DOD panel of compensation experts unveiled the framework of the new military retirement scheme on Tuesday. The proposed changes include:

No one receives a retirement annuity until they turn 60.Those who’ve served for 10 years could get an annuity, rather than needing to serve a minimum of 20 years.The plan would not affect those serving now, though current servicemembers could opt for some aspects, such as the 10-year retirement plan.New pay steps would be created for those serving beyond 30 years.Government will match Thrift Savings Plan contributions made by members, but they will not exceed 10 percent of basic pay.Source: The Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation

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