Military commissaries are on the chopping block because they are becoming too expensive to maintain. It becomes more and more apparent that as long as this country is involved in a war, the military seems to be near the top of the administration's list of priorities. Once the wars have concluded or are being drawn down — as is happening in Afghanistan — it seems military pay and benefits are no longer at the top of the priority list.
There are numerous four-star generals who have publicly stated that personnel cost, including pay and benefits, are unsustainable. I have not heard any of them come out and say that commissaries should be left alone. Currently, there are 178 commissaries located in the United States and 70 located in various overseas areas. These commissaries are costing the government approximately $1.4 billion per year to operate.
Meanwhile, the government continues to send billions upon billions of dollars to many different countries, all in the name of promoting democracy. The president of Afghanistan pokes the United States in the eyes every chance he gets, yet he is always there for the handout (about $4 billion-plus for the coming year). Before we cut military benefits, maybe we should take a hard look at cutting out some of the billions we are handing out to all the different countries.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III has said that we need to look at controlling military pay. All of the service chiefs have agreed. Considering that most four-star generals have 35 years or more of service under their belts, their base pay is approximately $18,634 per month, although they are limited by Level II of Executive Schedule to a paltry $14,975 per month. If they choose to retire at 40 years of service, they can expect to receive 100 percent of their base pay for life.
I, too, believe we should control pay, beginning with cutting the number of four-star generals. They don't need to have the commissaries because they can more than afford to shop where they so choose.
DENNIS G. BEELER