KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Concern about the impact that budget cuts may have on the force emerged as a common theme as the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with enlisted service members from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps at several locations here today.
Marine Corps Sgt. Major Bryan B. Battaglia said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta wants service members to know military pay will not be cut. Instead, annual pay increases likely will be decreased, Battaglia said.
The plan for dealing with upcoming defense cuts calls for belt-tightening for everyone, the sergeant major said.
"But we're not going to take it from any one source," he said.
Service members aren't going to bear the burden of defense cuts alone, Battaglia said.
"DOD civilian workers have been on their third year of a pay freeze," he said, "so they got a head start on us already."
The defense secretary has vowed to "fight for all he's worth" to mitigate any impacts on retirement by making changes applicable only to future service members, Battaglia said.
"If I can offer any consolation," he said, "it's that your best interests are at heart."
Battaglia said the question of whether fiscal uncertainty would mean a return to a single service utility uniform was one he has also heard elsewhere. He told service members that he hoped not, but that one possibility was a single uniform for operational environments.
"We've been there before," he said. However, "service identity is extremely important," he added.
"Each and every morning you need to wake up and be an airman ... that's important and I don't want to see that change," the sergeant major said.
In the 1990s "we all wore one uniform," Battaglia said. "It has been costly for the services to do all these different variations of uniforms."
The sergeant major said he thought having a single uniform for wear in operational theaters made fiscal sense and would reduce confusion for the United States' international partners.
Battaglia also addressed questions about whether programs such as tuition assistance would be able to continue in a time of fiscal austerity.
"Tuition assistance is not an entitlement," he said. "It's here because we want to help -- we want to make you better -- but it's not a disqualifier for being a good service member."
But, he said, the military is a learning organization.
"While it's here, use it," Battaglia said of tuition assistance, adding that he couldn't guarantee that it would continue indefinitely.
"We've got some fiscal challenges coming up," he said, noting the percentage of service members who use the tuition assistance benefit isn't very high.
"So when you get that metric ... it dissipates the chances of it remaining viable," Battaglia said. "So, again, use it while it's here."