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ARLINGTON, Va. — Reservists deserve equal benefits for equal work.

That was the mantra offered Wednesday by eight top-ranking enlisted members, who represent the nation’s 1.2 million Guard and reserve members, as they addressed the Defense Department’s advisory committee on military compensation.

Command Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Holland, adviser to the assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, told the committee that reservists “continually” tell him, “If you’re going to take me and use me, that’s fine, but pay me the same.”

“We expect the same pay for the same work,” said Holland, who is a member of the Army Reserves.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld organized the compensation committee early this spring.

The seven-member board is supposed to submit recommendations for improving the Pentagon’s military compensation system to Rumsfeld in a report due in April.

As part of that process, the board asked eight senior enlisted reserve representatives to offer suggestions on possible changes to the existing salary and benefits system during the committee’s third public meeting, held Wednesday.

Better health insurance was also high on the “most wanted” list of the senior enlisted reserve representatives, along with child care, full funding for enlistment incentive bonuses, and reimbursing reservists for travel to and from training.

“Somewhere down the line figure out how to compensate our folks for travel,” said Master Chief Petty Officer David Pennington of the Naval Reserves. “We’ve got a lot of folks doing a lot of windshield time.”

But the recent proposal by some reservist advocate groups to reduced the age at which retirement pay can be drawn from 60 to 55, met with mixed reactions by the senior enlisted members.

Many told the committee that shaving five years off the retirement age was a good idea.

“Early retirement seems to be the number one thing on the priority list,” Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. John Gipe told the committee.

Pennington agreed.

“Fifty-five is the [preferred] number I keep hearing as I move around the force,” he said.

And “changing the retirement age to 55 would be a big tool in recruiting,” said Sgt. Maj. Joseph Staudt, of the Marine Corps Reserves.

But others were concerned that lowering the age might prompt a mass exodus.

“If we did 55 now, we would lose the top 60 percent,” Holland said.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air National Guard Richard Smith said that 30,000 of his members, or 27 percent of the reserve’s enlisted force, “are eligible to retire today.”

If the Base Realignment and Closure proposal now before Congress suggests closing 26 of the Air Guard’s 88 bases, Smith said, and “as we move the iron,” many of those eligible members will retire, rather than travel long distances to get to a new base.

Lowering the retirement age, Smith said, would worsen the situation.

Instead of just lowering the age to 55, Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Michelle Jones proposed a retirement system “that is based on service, not an age.”

Holland agreed, suggesting that the age of retirement should be lowered “for every year you’re deployed.”

Thanks to the Army Reserve’s multiple deployments since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Jones said, “the feedback I’m getting is we really need to look at that” kind of retirement system.


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