Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Donald Thomas has a commanding presence, and before the Hinesville Association of the United States Army chapter opened its general membership meeting Thursday at the Golden Hibachi Buffet, it was clear where he stood on the pending threat of sequestration.
“Nothing is free,” said Thomas, assistant director of noncommissioned officer and soldier programs for the AUSA, when he responded to AUSA members who commented to him about sequestration and the risk it poses to national security. “Somebody’s got to pay for it. And the government doesn’t do anything to generate money — except get it from taxpayers.”
The Fairfax, Va., native, who began his 28-year career in 1971 as a draftee, said they didn’t realize how grateful he was to “get away” from the Washington, D.C. beltway. He said there was some kind of “vortex” surrounding Washington that affects the brains of people who work there, making them incapable of common-sense decisions.
Thomas recognized local leaders attending, including Hinesville City Councilman and Military Affairs Committee Chairman David Anderson, Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver, Walthourville Mayor Daisy Pray, Midway Mayor Clemontine Washington and Brooke Childers, a representative for U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. He said their participation in AUSA meetings shows the level of support that soldiers, retirees, veterans and military family members have in this community.
“Greetings from Gen. Gordon Sullivan, former chief of staff of the Army and current AUSA president,” he said as he officially began his remarks. “We have the best Army in the world, but if we keep monkeying with it, we will have a skeleton force.”
The “monkeying” Thomas said referred mostly to the adverse effects sequestration would have if it kicks in next year. The Department of Defense would face an additional $500 billion in cuts and be forced to reduce the Army’s active-duty numbers to levels not seen since World War II.
“We at the AUSA believe the active-duty Army should consist of 650,000 soldiers,” he said. “We need to ensure we have the troops to do what we’ve asked the Army to do.”
In addition to opposing sequestration through lobbying, Thomas said AUSA also is concerned about TRICARE, the health-care program for military members, retirees and their families. He noted that many OB/GYN and pediatric doctors will not accept TRICARE, and there has been an effort to raise the annual premiums for TRICARE Prime by the equivalent of about 400 percent.
AUSA also is concerned about the rising suicide rates in the Army and new proposals to restructure the military retirement system, he said. While noting these other concerns, he reiterated how much more concerned AUSA is about sequestration.
“You know, only 1 percent of our nation’s 312 million people ever serve in the military,” he said. “It makes no sense to try to balance the budget on the backs of that 1 percent. The military is not like the civilian workforce. The Army is not a job; the Army is a profession. We come in for the long haul.”
The ripple effects of reducing the size of the Army would be devastating, he said, adding that the Washington, D.C. area alone would lose 130,000 defense-related jobs.
Thomas encouraged members to visit the AUSA’s website and call or write their congressmen about issues affecting the Army and the nation.
For information, go to www.ausa.org or call 336-4570.