Lester C. Thurow's article, "Military Pension System Should Be Replaced by Severance Pay, Bonuses" (Feb. 17) reflects uninformed problem-solving typical of eggheads in ivory towers. Service personnel do not receive "pensions" for past services, do not realize half-pay at 20 years, do not have any vested interest in retirement pay and are usually subject to being passed over for promotion or pressured to get out by military managers after 20 years, without much option to stay in.
As to Thurow's major premise regarding severance pay and bonuses instead of "pensions," the U.S. Supreme Court held in a community property dispute involving the disposition of the husband's military pension (McCarty vs. McCarty, 1981), that service personnel receive "retired or retainer pay" because they are a trained pool of man/woman-power subject to recall to active duty in a national emergency or war.
Retirees are retained in the mobilization plans of the secretary of defense as a ready reserve. They are given reduced pay for present and future reduced services on standby duty. They are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice during retirement and may be court-martialed for infractions of the rules.
Concerning half-pay on 20 years' service: make that half of base pay, which constitutes only about 35% of the gross compensation received on active duty. Regarding Thurow's anguish over losing all that trained talent after 20 years' service: The historical policy of military managers has been to force early retirement through poor duty assignments and promotion passover at that crucial career point; it is usually not the other way around, such that the member has the option of staying.
We are all eager to correct expensive, lousy systems, but let us call it what it really is: a cheap way to maintain a pool of cannon fodder for the next war.
FRANK H. FREE
Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired