Retired Military Brass Make Bank Working for Foreign Regimes Like Saudi Arabia

retired military foreign governments
Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I retired from the Air Force last year after over 20 years of service. Leading up to my retirement, I had to take various congressionally-mandated courses called the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to prepare me for life outside the uniform.

A relatively large chunk of the TAP is geared toward helping service members find employment post-retirement or separation. One of the most stressful aspects of transitioning for most service members is finding a job, which can be incredibly difficult, leading to exacerbated mental health issues and even homelessness.

That same stress level doesn’t apply to some of the highest rank, who often slide right into a cushy Pentagon gig, defense contractor board position, or government appointment. However, some even get extra padding in their bank accounts thanks to employment overseas, with some questionable allies.

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It’s Good To Be A General

The Washington Post just broke an investigation into the foreign employment of retired military members. They found that more than 500 retired service members, including a fair amount of Generals and Admirals, have worked in foreign governments since 2015.

Some of these foreign engagements are with countries not well known for freedom and independence. For Saudi Arabia, 15 retired U.S. Generals and Admirals have worked as paid consultants since 2016. 

As a reminder, it was Saudi Arabia that President Joe Biden promised to make a “pariah” when he was a candidate for the highest political office in all the land due to its role in the brutal assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. So, of course, he had no problem meeting and fist-bumping with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this year to stave off any oil production cuts.

We all know how that went. However, life has been good in these countries for the Generals and Admirals, with many making up to 6 and 7 figures for ‘consulting.’

To put that into perspective, the average pension for a four-star general is $203,698 annually. As a retired Senior Master Sergeant, I’d be happy to get that, but when you compare that to what these head honchos make in these other countries, it seems like chump change.

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By The Numbers

Let’s take a look at some of these offers, shall we? An Air Force General was offered $5,000 daily for a consulting gig in Azerbaijan. 

That General pocketed more money in one day than I do in two months with my pension. But it’s not just the old front office crew, as we used to call them, that are cashing extensive checks for work done in far-off lands.

A former Navy SEAL made $258,000 in one year for his work in Saudi Arabia. The UAE gives former helicopter pilots upwards of $200,000 and aircraft mechanics $120,000 a year.

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Let’s talk about the UAE for a moment. In 2015, it was the UAE that sent troops to Yemen. It operated a network of prisons throughout the region where Yemenis were beaten and flogged.

The Associated Press reported that some of these prisoners were chained to grills and slowly roasted alive over open flames. Hardly a country that exemplifies the type of military standards and rules we uphold in the good old U.S. of A.

Fuzzy Rules

The reality is this is entirely legal, up to a point. Federal law requires that retired military members not receive anything of value from foreign governments that could compromise our sworn allegiance to the United States. 

You see, even though we are retired and no longer don the uniform of the red, white, and blue, we receive a pension and other benefits from the government as thanks for our service. We theoretically can be recalled back to duty in the event of, say, a world war. But how likely is that? Am I right?

This doesn’t preclude us from performing work for foreign governments, provided we request permission and receive it. Before 1977 the approval rested with Congress.

Now the approval authority is delegated to the Pentagon and State Department, two organizations not well known for transparency or above-board activities. Case in point, of the over 500 requests submitted since 2015, about 95% were granted.

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What is important to note is that if a retired service member decides not to ask for permission, there isn’t much punishment required. It’s not even considered a criminal charge.

What can be done is the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) can withhold the pension for those who decide not to ask permission, of which “fewer than five” members have had their retirement withheld for not following the rules, according to a DFAS spokesperson.

Some Recognizable Names

Of the 15 that the Washington Post found working in Saudi Arabia, they uncovered that retired Marine General James L. Jones spent some time working for the Crown Prince; Mr. Jones was the former National Security Adviser for President Barack Obama. Saudi Arabia also gleaned some knowledge from retired Army General Keith Alexander, the former leader of the National Security Agency for Presidents Obama and George W. Bush.

And we can’t forget Mad Dog, retired Marine General Jim Mattis, who was a military adviser to the UAE before becoming Secretary of Defense under President Donald Trump. The Washington Post had to sue the military branches who tried very hard to keep this information secret.

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Ultimately U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ruled in favor of the news outlet, stating:

“The public has a right to know if high-ranking military leaders are taking advantage of their stations – or might be perceived to be doing so – to create employment opportunities with foreign governments in retirement.”

The military gave the information to the Washington Post, but not without redacting the pay packages for retired Generals and names of some of the lower-ranking retirees to not subject them to “embarrassment and harassment.” Speaking of embarrassing, let’s talk about retired Army Lieutenant General Stephen Toumajan.

Mr. Toumajan, post-retirement, spent time as the Commander of UAE special operations aviation unit Group 18. According to the UAE, his title was “His Excellency Major General Staff Pilot.” 

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He often gives speeches wearing a flight suit, but he’s opted to swap his American flag for the Emirati flag. Talk about embarrassing.

So What

Some of you out there might be wondering why we should care; this is allowed for a reason and has been how we have operated for decades. And you wouldn’t be wrong.

However, when you take into account that many of our retired brass are called upon to testify to Congress using their expertise to help shape our foreign policy and touch other aspects such as our energy policy, you have to ask yourself, are they testifying with the future of the United States in mind, or are they advising based off their pocketbooks?

And if you think these old war dogs weren’t lining up these gigs while they were wearing the uniform and leading your sons and daughters into war, think again. These relationships were built over time and nourished. 

It is past due to question the motives of those at the highest levels of our military machine, both in uniform, out of uniform, and in the Pentagon. Yet, while most veterans struggle with post-service employment and inflation, those with stars on their shoulders do just fine.

Perhaps Uncle Joe should ask some of these retired Generals to talk to Saudi Arabia about oil; they probably have a better relationship with the Crown Prince. 

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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