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Bigger Pensions Than Four-Star Generals

Guest Commentary
by Michael Bendas, Army Colonel (retired)
February 9, 2011

Our nation, our states, and our cities are struggling financially. We have promised our governmental workers compensation and benefits that far exceed the civilian sector. This is unsustainable.

To clarify my biases, I am a retired Army Colonel. I receive a military pension. A Colonel’s pension is not paltry, it is reasonable. And, by comparison the excesses are in the Illinois public pensions. Please review below…

Our unionized public service employees receive pensions that far exceed what is reasonable for their levels of responsibility during their careers. Let’s compare what is provided to our military service members, often who have survived multiple combat tours, to the Illinois Teachers Retirement System’s retirees in suburban Cook County.

A full General or Admiral wears 4 stars. Their responsibilities are global, they command tens or hundreds of thousands of troops. There are 1.4 million unformed servicemen and women, 41 are full Generals or Admirals, or 1 per 35,000 servicemen (employees). There are 580,000 civilian employees most of whom are the responsibility of these senior General Officers.

A full General or Admiral with 40 years experience would receive a pension of $168,000, less than the pension of any of the top 40 suburban Cook County TRS retirees. Suburban Cook County represents less than 1% of the nation’s population, yet has 40 retirees with pensions larger than our most successful military professionals, most if not all, have served in combat and who have held positions of enormous responsibility over extended periods of time.

The top 25 retirees receive more in annual pension than the pay of a US Senator currently in office. Nine of them receive over $200,000 in annual pensions.

A Major General or Rear Admiral, who wears two stars with 35 years of experience would receive $127,400, $20,000 less than any of the Top 100 TRS retirees. What does a two star officer do? He/she might command an Army or Marine Division of 14,000 servicemen plus a complement of civilians, or might command a Navy Carrier Strike Group with 6-9 major ships, or command a B-52s/B2s/Minuteman missile groups, or be responsible for Intelligence, Personnel or Logistics for an four star command that spans the world.

A Sergeant Major is the highest Non-Commissioned Officer rank, held by less than 1 in 120 servicemen, would be the senior enlisted soldier in a Battalion, Brigade or Division. With 35 years of experience that generally includes combat tours, he/she would receive $62,000.
Morraine Valley and Harper Community Colleges have 37 Professors with $100,000+ a year pensions.

Chicago pays bus drivers with a high school education and a few weeks of training $56,000 per year plus lavish benefits. This pay is the same a Platoon Sergeant with 15 years of experience receives. The NCO is responsible for 10-50 service members 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The CTA bus driver has better benefits, does not get deployed to live in a foreign country disrupting their family, nor is sent to a combat zone where they might give their life for our freedom – and gets overtime pay.

Our public service employees deserve fair and reasonable pay in line with the civilian world. But the current excesses do not pass the common sense test.

Our politicians need to stand up to the unions and to negotiate compensation and benefits that are appropriate to the job and affordable to the public. The alternative is bankruptcy for the cities and financial disaster for the State of Illinois.

Michael (Mike) Bendas is a West Point graduate, a retired Army Colonel, a business consultant and he ran for Congress in 2010 (IL-03). Email: bendasforcongress@gmail.com

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7 Responses to "Bigger Pensions Than Four-Star Generals"

  1. Comment by Carl Nyberg on February 9, 2011 at 10:34 am said:

    Col. Bendas, I’m sure you know that retired military officers are eligible for Social Security on top of their military pension.

    Are you aware that retired teachers don’t get Social Security?

    If you don’t know this, you really don’t know enough to write intelligently on this issue.

    If you do know it and hide the truth with rhetorical sleight of hand, I question your integrity and honor.

  2. Comment by Adam on February 9, 2011 at 10:50 am said:

    There are 41 GENERALS (total) that manage the 2 million people that comprise the military. After 30-40 years, they get out-pensioned by Cook County TRS retirees! That’s not defensible, Carl.

  3. Comment by Ted Barnhart on February 9, 2011 at 11:44 am said:


    Is my understanding that military officers pay into social security while Illinois Teaches do no pay into social security, correct?

    If my understanding is wrong, please advise.

    If my understanding is correct, shouldn’t you be asking your self the very questions you just asked the Colonel?

  4. Comment by Carl Nyberg on February 9, 2011 at 1:15 pm said:

    Ted, your reasoning breaks down this way.

    You seem to be saying that b/c military personnel pay into Social Security that this is something they earned with their own money.

    OK. But teachers pay into their system too.

    And it’s a rare teacher who hasn’t paid into Social Security while working other jobs in his/her life and lost money because the rule is that to collect a teacher pension one has to forfeit some or all of the Social Security retirement benefit.

  5. Comment by Ted Barnhart on February 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm said:


    The Teacher is paying into a system that in all likelihood is going to pay a significant real return to the participant. The General paying Social Security is not likely to receive a positive real return on his or her contribution until they reach their 80’s, if at all.

    The fact that the teacher gets to bypass this is a plus, not a negative.

    Your point about teachers forfeiting some or all of their SS benefits from other employment is legitimate, but for it to outweigh what the author is stating you need to expand your argument.

  6. Comment by Carl Nyberg on February 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm said:

    Ted, this ain’t my blog.

    The issues I’ve identified show the Col. Bend-the-truth has not made a complete and accurate argument.

    It’s not my job to go running around dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s the colonel missed in the comments.

  7. Comment by Scott on March 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm said:

    Interesting take. I am a 20 year police officer in the Chciago area. I have carried a gun the entire time, as we are under the possibility of “combat” every day we work. I pay about 10 percent of my income into my pension, and consider the pension part of an overall compensation package, even allowing for the lower financial standard I have knowingly accepted to work in the field of law enforcement. Very much like the military.

    I certainly hope that the tea party movement, of which I have been a supporter from the beginning, does not blindly turn on every “public” employee.

    I feel I have earned every cent of compensation, every cent of pension and benefit, and am becoming disenchanted with being painted with a broad brush.