Do Navy SEALs Deserve To Retire Early?

Somehow SEAL years are not the same as human years. When it comes to the physical toll, Navy SEAL years damage the body, age the body, risk the body far more than other kinds of military service.  So maybe SEALs (and other Special Operations forces) should be eligible for an earlier retirement?

That might prevent the situation that is causing so much speculation in Esquire magazine about the Navy SEAL who killed Osama Bin Laden.  “The Shooter” is leaving the military with 16 years of service and hardly any benefits.  Author Phil Bronstein noted,

“What is much harder to understand is that a man with hundreds of successful war missions, one of the most decorated combat veterans of our age, who capped his career by terminating bin Laden, has no landing pad in civilian life.”

That doesn’t seem quite fair to me either. I know I know 80 percent of military members leave the service before retirement.  I know that none of them have much of a landing pad. I know studies have shown that those who have combat specialties have the hardest time getting jobs on the outside.  Even though I know what retirements cost the military, none of that seems fair to me.

But changing the way retirement works in the military doesn’t seem feasible either. When we questioned our Military.com users about whether retirement pay should differ depending on combat, hundreds of readers weighed in.  The majority acknowledged the risk and cost of combat, but they thought defining “combat” would be a nightmare.

Maybe when it comes to Special Operations it would be helpful to look at how military retirement actually functions in the military.  While Bronstein seems to think of military retirement pay as a reward, it actually is a retention tool.

Holding off on retirement pay until the 20 year mark incentivizes experienced servicemembers to stay in the military during the years that the civilian world is most interested in them as employees.

Servicemembers will agree to deploy again and again, or work high stress/low joy jobs, or fight the beltway traffic for a few more years in order to advance and get that retirement pay.  Retirement pay keeps people working when other incentives are in play.

The thing is, I don’t see how that 20-year retirement pay would serve to retain people in any of the Special Operations communities.  We need young SEALs and young Army Rangers and young Delta Force guys to do the kinds of feats so few people are capable of performing.  We still really need those older more experienced Special Forces members to provide that irreplaceable knowledge young people don’t have.  Isn’t experience sometimes the only thing that keeps people alive?

So would an earlier retirement pay work as a tool to keep them in the service when private security firms would lure them away?  Is it really more money what they are looking for?  Or is the work so dangerous and so marked by chance that no amount of money in the world would be worth it?

I just don’t know. I think SEALs are probably the only ones who can accurately predict SEAL behavior.  But I want us to be fair to them.  I want to be part of a country that treats warriors and their families in a just way. I just don’t know what that would look like, do you?

Take our poll and check out the results below.

Fill out my online form.

About Jacey Eckhart

Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.


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