By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2005 - A new committee is studying the military compensation system to come up with ways to bring it more in line with what service members want and operational needs demand.

The Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation held its first public meeting today to explain its marching orders from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to take a look at the current system and recommend how to make it better.

The committee will look at the whole compensation program for men and women in uniform in both the active and reserve components, explained retired Navy Adm. Donald Pilling, committee chairman and former vice chief of naval operations. This includes basic, special and incentive pays; benefits ranging from housing to medical care; and deferred pay that includes retirement pay and survivor benefits.

The committee will attempt to strike the best balance between cash and benefits, current and deferred compensation, and the need for flexibility during peacetime as well as war, Pilling said. It will also consider the best way to compensate members of the National Guard and Reserve, who are deploying more frequently than ever before to support military operations.

The goal is to ensure that the armed forces continue to attract and retain top-quality, highly motivated men and women and to ensure they and their families receive the compensation they deserve. Pilling said that's particularly important when they're burdened by multiple deployments and family separations.

One issue the committee will deal with is the fact that many military members are more interested in cash in hand than retirement or other benefits. “They tend to value current compensation more than compensation that they will not receive for 10 or 20 years, or maybe not at all,” he said.

Retirement benefits become more important later in a service members' career, when they become critical to military retention, Pilling said.

During May 10 meetings with service leaders, committee members heard “a range of views about specific changes” in the compensation package, all to be considered during the committee's deliberations, he said.

But one particular message came through loud and clear. “All asked for an architecture that allows flexibility rather than mandatory changes in compensation,” Pilling said.

Flexibility will be a key goal as the military undergoes its longest period of sustained conflict since the all-volunteer force was conceived in the early 1970s, he said.

The committee plans to present Rumsfeld an interim report of its recommendations by late September and the final report in April 2006. The next of its public meetings is scheduled for June 7.