Katherine Kidder is a research associate at the Center for a New American Security’s Military, Veterans, and Society Program. She is a doctoral candidate in security studies at Kansas State University, where she focused on defense and development policy. She writes extensively on military retention rates, professional military education, defense budgeting, and foreign aid, and is the spouse of an active-duty Army officer.
Over the sleepy D.C. week leading up to the 4th of July, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and the Pentagon released the 2015 National Military Strategy, the first since 2011. The document, hailed as “remarkably readable,” provides a bad news/good news story on the role and capability of the U.S. military in meeting threats to U.S. national security. Many of the sentiments listed in the document were further reiterated by Dempsey’s presumed successor, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, at his confirmation hearing on July 9.
Over the past decade, a growing conversation has focused on issues of military spousal employment, and rightly so. The gap between military spouse unemployment rates and those of typical civilians is significant, particularly in the 18–24-year-old age group, where there is a 13% gap between military spouses and their civilian counterparts, according to a 2014 report by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. Nearly as frustrating is the issue of underemployment, wherein military spouses are employed in positions not commensurate with their education and experience. Nearly 40% of female military spouses with bachelor’s degrees report underemployment.
Recent weeks brought a number of historic firsts for women in ground combat forces, reigniting the debate surrounding the role of women in the military. On Jan. 30, five women passed the Ranger Training Assessment Course, securing their places at the first integrated Ranger School assessment scheduled for April — and with it, the potential to yield the first women with Ranger tabs. Less than two weeks later, a female first sergeant took charge of a combat engineer company for the first time. These two bookends signal a monumental leap forward; the former foreshadowing women’s potential to succeed in the elite forces, the latter solidifying their ability to lead the conventional forces that bore the weight of sustaining the past 13 years of war.
The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission released its long-awaited final report on Thursday, offering a number of findings and recommendations for improving “the fiscal sustainability of the compensation and retirement systems.” These recommendations include moving from a defined benefit to a blended defined benefit and defined contribution retirement system, changing the health care system for family members and retirees, and an affirmation of existing quality of life programs. Fundamentally untouched are current military pay tables and allowances for housing and subsistence.