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Looking for a few good warriors who can accept a smaller pension

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Members of the armed forces remain steadfast in their desire to serve out their careers amid proposed changes that would reduce military retirement benefits.

That’s a key finding of the First Command Financial Behaviors Index, a monthly survey of 530 U.S. consumers aged 25 to 70 with annual household incomes of at least $50,000. The survey explores the American public’s financial behaviors, attitudes and intentions.

According to the survey, four out of five middle-class military families (commissioned officers and senior NCOs in pay grades E-6 and above with household incomes of at least $50,000) say that proposed changes to military retirement have not altered their commitment to serve until they’re eligible to receive full benefits after completing 20 years of service.

More than 6 in 10 (62 percent of respondents) say they have not changed their feelings about serving to full retirement. Another 22 percent say they are more likely to serve out their careers.

Just 16 percent of survey respondents say they are less likely to serve to full retirement, down 12 points from January — the lowest level since First Command added the question to the monthly survey in March 2014. The findings represent the second set of monthly survey data collected since late January, when the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission announced its proposal to restructure the traditional 20-year retirement system as a blended program that includes a reduced pension in exchange for a lump sum bonus and a new 401(k)-type plan.

“Career service members are relatively sanguine about proposed changes to military retirement and they remain committed to completing their own military service,” says Scott Spiker, CEO of First Command Financial Services, Inc. “Still, it’s important to note that this initially optimistic reaction could change significantly in the months ahead as we see new analysis and evaluation of the reform proposal.

“Early responses from national groups representing current and former service members stress the potentially adverse impact this recommendation could have on the retention of mid-career officers and NCOs.”

Support for the existing military retirement system remains strong. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents who say they are likely to serve to full retirement prefer to be grandfathered in under the current system.

“These findings suggest that a continuing commitment to a military career may depend on a reciprocal assurance from the federal government that it will maintain the traditional retirement system for existing service members,” Spiker says. “How the proposed changes may impact the retention of tomorrow’s career military force remains a critical, unanswered question.”