President Reagan's proposal to freeze military pay will save nearly $5 billion in fiscal 1984. It also could exacerbate the armed forces' longer-range personnel difficulties.
Indeed, there are hints that Defense Department officials may try to make up for this cut in the 1985 budget.
Why the hints to boost pay again? When the draft ended, military recruiting and retention problems grew. The education level of recruits dropped, and most skilled enlisted personnel left for more lucrative civilian positions. These trends were directly tied to the drop in pay and benefits compared to inflation.
A bill passed in 1980 reversed this. Between 1981 and 1983, military pay and benefits increased more than 30 percent. For 1984, the Pentagon intended to ask for a 7.6 percent raise. Meanwhile, total personnel costs dropped from 60 percent of the military budget in 1975 to about 40 percent today.
Because of the pay raises, the number of Army recruits with high school diplomas has shot from 50 percent in 1980 to about 85 percent today. About 1,000 veterans a month are rejoining the Navy. All the services are exceeding recruiting goals. But Defense officials say the number of people of recruiting age will decline steadily in coming years. And economic recovery could make the military less attractive.