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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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U.S.

US military needs troops. Top brass look for ways to improve ‘quality of life’

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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The United States military is struggling to find enough recruits to fill its ranks. The nation’s top brass are taking several steps to rectify the problem, including taking advice from some of their own.

Mandatory Funday is the online handle of a social media influencer who caters to a specific audience. Straight Arrow News is honoring his request to not use his real name, but can report he’s an active-duty lieutenant in the United States Army. He’s also what’s called a “Mustang officer” because he served as an enlisted soldier first.

As the lieutenant explained, “I humanize the uniform, so to speak. I’ve been shocked to find out that there’s a lot of people that believe that you have to be some kind of, like, superhuman to join the military. And it’s just not the case. We can take damn near anybody, and turn them into what we need to turn them into.”

The videos Mandatory Funday creates poke fun at a range of topics to which most military families can relate. One video explores what many call the “paradox of service,” where a person may disdain certain aspects of the military, but still misses it when they leave.

The lieutenant said he first started making videos because he wanted to have some fun and share his experiences in the Army. As it turns out, those funny videos are leading to real changes.

“I have gotten messages from many senior leaders too, at this point in, in every branch of service and even some people in other NATO militaries telling me that they’re implementing new policy, or a new way of doing things based on some of the videos that I’ve created,” the lieutenant said. “It’s been really cool because there’s a disconnect between senior leadership and junior guys, right? And I feel like I’m bridging that gap a little bit.”

The videos Mandatory Funday creates, as well as the impact they have, are a sort of microcosm of a much larger effort within the military: senior leadership listening to junior enlisted on ways to improve military life.

During the opening ceremonies of the Navy League’s Sea Air Space 2023 Exhibition in National Harbor, Maryland, the top officers from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard all talked about the immediate need to invest in people.

The Honorable Erik Raven, the under secretary for the Navy, said, “Our navy and Marine Corps are more than just advanced platforms and weapons systems. Our people remain our greatest strength and are at the heart of everything that we do.”

Adm. Linda Fagan, the commandant of the Coast Guard, said “If we don’t make the investments in the people [then] the aircraft won’t operate. The ships won’t be able to maneuver.

“If nothing else, I’ve learned in the past years the most important thing, most often, we can do is listen. Actually not talk,” explained Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps.

“If we ask them what’s important to them, it’s not all that complicated. They live somewhere: the barracks or their family housing. They get up and they work out in the morning: fitness centers. And then they go home and if they have kids, they’re going to need to find a place to watch their kids during the day: child development centers. And they’re going to work somewhere in a hangar or a maintenance bay or go to the field. Where they work, where they eat, where they live. All these are things that some people call ‘quality of life,’ but I think they are the centerpiece. They’re the focus. And we must invest in that now,” Berger said.

To be clear, the United States government is making investments toward improving the quality of life for military members, but it may not be enough.

Included in the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Bill was a provision to set aside more than $17 billion to help restore and improve military facilities. Another $2 billion went to improve privatized housing. The most recent National Defense Authorization Act also increased pay by 4.6% for military members and civilians serving in the Department of Defense.

At the same time, a recent study showed around 1 in 4 military members went through some form of food insecurity recently. There’s a growing number of military families qualifying for SNAP benefits, also called food stamps. And just like in the civilian world, access to affordable childcare can be a struggle.

“We have to adjust our pay, or the basic allowance for subsistence now,” Congressman Don Bacon said. The Nebraska representative is also a retired Air Force general. He’s the chair of a new house subcommittee focused on quality of life for U.S. military members.

In addition to raising housing and food allowances for junior enlisted through mid-level enlisted soldiers, particularly those with families, the congressman said there are other challenges that need to be addressed.

“We have housing that’s falling behind. We have medical care that’s being hollowed out a little bit at a time. We have families on long waiting lists to get daycare. We have spouses who can’t get jobs because we move them too often,” Bacon said. “So, I wanted to look at this holistically and say ‘we could do so much better for quality of life.’”

Bacon said improving the quality of life in the military will also make it easier to get new members to sign up. In 2022, every service branch except the Space Force missed its recruiting goals. 2023 isn’t looking much better.

Bacon’s subcommittee will meet twice a week for eight months starting in June. From there, the committee will offer up its recommendations to be included in future legislation.

“This [subcommittee] is going to be something in the House that won’t be Republican versus Democrat,” Bacon said. “It’s going to be Americans, and patriotic Americans, trying to solve a problem for patriotic Americans.”

Patriotic Americans like the Mustang lieutenant behind Mandatory Funday. The lieutenant said he’s not surprised there’s a House subcommittee on improving quality of life in the military. For him, it’s proof of what the Army teaches in its official doctrine: Good leaders listen.

“I think the Army and, you know, the military in general does a fairly good job of trying to meet people halfway, if that makes sense,” the lieutenant said.

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You’re going to serve your country….

MANDATORY FUNDAY IS THE ONLINE HANDLE OF A SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCER WHO CATERS TO A SPECIFIC AUDIENCE.

At least I’ll meet a lot of great people. Nah, a lot of the people are mid

HE’S AN ACTIVE DUTY LIEUTENANT IN THE UNITED STATES ARMY. HE’S ALSO WHAT’S CALLED A MUSTANG OFFICER, BECAUSE HE SERVED AS AN ENLISTED SOLDIER FIRST.

LT: I humanize the uniform, so to speak, I’ve been shocked to find out that there’s a lot of people that believe that you have to be some kind of, like, superhuman to join the military. And it’s just not the case. Like we can take damn near anybody, and turn them into what we need to turn them into.

THE VIDEOS MANDATORY FUNDAY CREATES POKE FUN AT A RANGE OF TOPICS TO WHICH MOST MILITARY FAMILIES CAN RELATE.

We’re going to put a bunch of support facilities on base with you like finance offices and different resources for families and what not.

Ah, great. Yeah, nice. I mean that would be super useful for troops.

They’re all going to close at 17:00.

They close at 17:00, what? No, we get off at 17:00. We need them to be open.

THE LT SAYS HE FIRST STARTED MAKING THE VIDEOS BECAUSE HE WANTED TO HAVE SOME FUN AND SHARE HIS EXPERIENCES IN THE ARMY. BUT AS IT TURNS OUT, THOSE FUNNY VIDEOS ARE LEADING TO REAL CHANGES

LT: I have gotten messages from many senior leaders too, at this point in, in every branch of service and even some people in other NATO militaries telling me that they’re implementing new policy, or a new way of doing things based on some of the videos that I’ve created. It’s been really cool because there’s a disconnect between senior leadership and junior guys, right? And I feel like I’m bridging that gap a little bit.

THE VIDEOS MANDATORY FUNDAY CREATES, AS WELL AS THE IMPACT THEY HAVE, ARE A SORT OF MICROCOSM OF A MUCH LARGER EFFORT WITHIN THE MILITARY. SENIOR LEADERSHIP, LISTENING TO JUNIOR ENLISTED, ON WAYS TO IMPROVE MILITARY LIFE.

DURING THE OPENING CEREMONIES OF THE NAVY LEAGUE’S SEA AIR SPACE 2023 EXHIBITION IN NATIONAL HARBOR MARYLAND, THE TOP OFFICERS FROM THE NAVY, MARINE CORPS AND COAST GUARD ALL TALKED ABOUT THE IMMEDIATE NEED TO INVEST IN PEOPLE

Ravan: Our Navy and Marine Corps are more than just advanced platforms and weapons systems. Our people remain our greatest strength and are at the heart of everything that we do.

Fagan: If we don’t make the investments in the people the aircraft won’t operate. The ships won’t be able to maneuver.

Berger: But if nothing else I’ve learned in the past years, the most important thing most often we can do is listen. Actually not talk. If we ask them what’s important to them, it’s not all that complicated. They live somewhere: the barracks or their family housing. They get up and they work out in the morning: fitness centers. And then they go home and if they have kids, they’re going to need to find a place to watch their kids during the day: child development centers. And they’re going to work somewhere in a hangar or a maintenance bay or go to the field. Where they work, where they eat, where they live. All these are things that some people call “quality of life,” but for us I think they are the centerpiece. They’re the focus. And we must invest in that now.

TO BE CLEAR, THE GOVERNMENT IS MAKING INVESTMENTS TOWARD IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR MILITARY MEMBERS, BUT IT MAY NOT BE ENOUGH.

INCLUDED IN THE FISCAL YEAR 2023 OMNIBUS BILL WAS A PROVISION TO SET ASIDE MORE THAN 17 BILLION DOLLARS TO HELP RESTORE AND IMPROVE ON BASE FACILITIES. ANOTHER $2 BILLION WENT TO IMPROVE PRIVATIZED HOUSING.

THE MOST RECENT NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT ALSO INCREASED PAY BY 4.6% FOR MILITARY MEMBERS AND CIVILIANS SERVING IN THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.

AT THE SAME TIME, A RECENT STUDY SHOWED AROUND 1 IN 4 MILITARY MEMBERS WENT THROUGH SOME FORM OF FOOD INSECURITY RECENTLY. THERE’S A GROWING NUMBER OF MILITARY FAMILIES QUALIFYING FOR SNAP BENEFITS, ALSO CALLED FOOD STAMPS. AND JUST LIKE IN THE CIVILIAN WORLD, ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE CHILD CARE CAN BE A STRUGGLE.

Bacon: We got to adjust our pay, or the basic allowance for subsistence now, the food allowances so that we can get our junior enlisted all the way through our mid-level enlisted, and particularly those who are married with kids, and adjust their pay so they’re not qualifying for SNAP.

RETIRED AIR FORCE GENERAL AND CURRENT CONGRESSMAN DON BACON IS LEADING A NEW HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE FOCUSED ON QUALITY OF LIFE FOR MILITARY MEMBERS.

Bacon: We have housing that’s falling behind. We have medical care that’s being hollowed out a little bit at a time. We have families on long waiting lists to get daycare. And so, there’s, we have spouses who can’t get jobs because we move them too often. So, I wanted to look at this holistically and say we could do so much better for quality of life.

CONGRESSMAN BACON SAYS IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF LIFE IN THE MILITARY WILL ALSO MAKE IT EASIER TO GET NEW MEMBERS TO SIGN UP. IN 2022, EVERY SERVICE BRANCH EXCEPT THE SPACE FORCE MISSED ITS RECRUITING GOALS. 2023 ISN’T LOOKING MUCH BETTER.

Bacon: This is going to be something in the house that won’t be Republican versus Democrat. It’s going to be Americans, and patriotic Americans, trying to solve a problem for patriotic Americans.

PATRIOTIC AMERICANS LIKE THE MUSTANG LT BEHIND MANDATORY FUNDAY. THE LT SAYS HE’S NOT SURPRISED THERE’S A HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMPROVING QUALITY OF LIFE IN THE MILITARY. FOR HIM, IT’S PROOF OF WHAT THE ARMY TEACHES IN ITS OFFICIAL DOCTRINE: GOOD LEADERS LISTEN

LT: I think the Army and the, you know, the military in general does a fairly good job of trying to meet people halfway, if that makes sense?

BUT WHILE THEY MAY BE LISTENING, DON’T PUT IT PAST SOME FOLKS TO STILL POKE FUN EVERY NOW AND THEN.

What is the military going to give me?

What it’s going to give you is an empty place in your soul and after you’re It’s going to give you an empty soul. After you get out, despite the fact you hated so much of it you’re going to miss it more than you’ve missed anything in your life.

Oh god! He’s right!

CONGRESSMAN DON BACON’S SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMPROVING QUALITY OF LIFE WILL MEET TWICE A WEEK FOR 8 MONTHS STARTING IN JUNE. FROM THERE, THE COMMITTEE WILL OFFER UP ITS RECOMMENDATIONS TO BE INCLUDED IN FUTURE LEGISLATION.

FOR MORE STORIES ABOUT OUR NATION’S MILITARY, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT OUR UNBIASED, STRAIGHT FACT REPORTING AT STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS DOT COM.