2025 budget: 4.5% pay raise, shift of troops from active to reserve

by Vern Evans

The Defense Department is looking to balance some of its personnel numbers next year, downsizing the active duty Army and Navy by several thousand, while adding some of those spots back in the Reserve and National Guard.

The fiscal year 2025 request asks for a drop of 7,800 authorized billets in the active component and an increase of 2,100 positions in the reserve component. That’s a 0.6% drop in overall end strength, Pentagon comptroller Mike McCord told reporters during a briefing Monday.

“Many of you who cover this know that we have had some recruiting challenges, but strong retention, so a bit of a mixed picture on the manning side over the last couple of years,” he said.

Here is the rundown:

  • The Army is hoping to shed 1,700 active duty billets, down from 445,000 to 442,300 soldiers, and shift 1,000 of them to the Army Reserve, for a total of 175,800 soldiers. This move follows last year’s request to cut 2,200 Army Reserve billets.
  • The Navy is also requesting to downsize its active force, by 5,500 sailors, but put 500 of those spots in the Navy Reserve, for a total of 390,000 sailors.
  • The active Marine Corps stay flat under the budget request, but grow their Reserve forces by 500, for 204,800 overall.
  • The active Air Force would also stay at 320,000 troops, but add 400 to the Reserve and 2,700 to the Air National Guard, for 494,700 airmen total.
  • The Space Force, which doesn’t have a reserve component, would see the only active duty increase, growing from 9,400 to 9,800 guardians as the new service continues to fill its ranks.

The request drops the active force from 1,284,500 to 1,276,700, while growing the reserve component from 763,600 to 765,700.

This amounts to $182 billion in requested spending to cover pay and benefits for military personnel, with a 4.5 pay raise, down from last year’s historically high 5.2% bump.

The Pentagon is also requesting to increase the threshold for troops to receive the basic needs allowance, a special pay introduced in 2022 specifically for junior enlisted troops with families at more expensive duty stations. The proposal would raise income eligibility from 150% of the poverty level to 200%. For reference, the poverty threshold for a four-person household in the contiguous United States is $31,200.

Other personnel initiatives include $1.2 billion for the department’s sexual assault prevention and response office, $651 million of that for implementing recommendations from a 2021 independent review commission into the military’s sexual assault problem. Much of that money will go to hiring professional educators to craft training programs.

Another $547 million would go to suicide prevention programs, including $261 million to to implement recommendations from another independent review commission. Chief of among those efforts is hiring more mental health professionals to tackle long wait times troops face when seeking counseling.

Undeterred by attacks from Republican lawmakers, the Pentagon is requesting $162 million for its diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility programs.

“Leaders at all levels are responsible for fostering a climate of dignity and respect that supports diversity, is free from problematic behaviors, and does not tolerate retaliation or reprisal against those filing complaints,” according to department’s budget request summary.

And though the Pentagon’s top spokesman has said in recent weeks that leaders are not especially worried about the spate of service members leaking classified information in the past year, the budget specifically addresses insider threats, requesting $130 million.

That money will go to developing a better case management system to track reports, tools for analyzing data to pinpoint risks and a new hotline for troops and DOD civilians to report suspected “espionage, terrorism, workplace violence, suicide, and domestic violence,” according to the budget request summary.

The Pentagon’s wish list depends on Congress passing a budget. The Defense Department is operating under a continuing resolution currently, with funding levels capped to what Congress authorized for 2023.

“So I cannot emphasize this enough: we need predictable, adequate, sustained and timely funding goals,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said Monday during a briefing. “We cannot afford any more lost time time that we cannot buy back.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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