When I joined, one of the main selling points was: education. I was going to be trained in my job, get career experience, and I would get free college. Really to any 18-20 year old that is almost too good to pass up. rather than work at McDonalds, or be stuck at home praying I one day might by some miracle go to college I could get a career and college. I actually took the Army up on this, and took a few courses between my (admittedly frequent) Deployments and PCS's. Even if I didn't stay in one place longer than a semester, I still had the opportunity, and the GI Bill should I ever need it.
Tuition Assistance is not just for the troops. May of the wives would wish to better themselves. Imagine being stuck on a post in the middle of nowhere (which is where most Army bases are now a days) and having nothing but your husband's paycheck. You'd probably want to better yourself too. You could get everything from an AA, BA/BS all the way up to a Masters if you were so inclined. I say could, because now that the Army has suspended Tuition Assistance, along with the Marine Corps that is very much in doubt.
This move is just plain strange, if not ought right stupid. What's to prevent a mid level NCO from getting out and trying his hand with the GI Bill? The Army and Marine Corps need good NCO's even more than they need good officers. Having an excess of officers, even excellent ones, and a dearth of even marginal NCOs is a recipe for disaster. The over simplified version is "too many Chiefs not enough Indians" but the reality is more complex than that. An officer's job is to decide What must be done, the NCO's job is to figure out How. It's not a simple or easy job and the rewards are not that great. TA is the one benefit that most affects the Enlisted side of the house, the movers, the muscle the backbone.
It's also interesting to note that no similar move has come from the Navy and Air Force, just the Army and Marine Corps. This means that this move is targeted and purely political, since the Army and Marine Corps are currently the most visible of services. While the Army and Marines are actively engaged in a ground war, they are the two services that receive most media attention, and the Army being the largest service, is the one that bares most of the brunt of fighting this war. The Air Force and the Navy, while both playing their pare are largely only in a supporting role.
This is at every level involved in this decision a failure of leadership, and a very dangerous political calculation. I'm sure the President had some hand in this decision, and if so, he should know that there are dangerous consequences to our national readiness. We are fighting a war, and the world is becoming increasingly unstable, an army without its backbone would be a very dangerous thing.
The Services are all volunteer. No one is drafted, no one is forced to join. The only think keeping the most experienced NCOs are some of the benefits which have begun to erode over the last decade. When an E-6 can make double what he's making now, AND be able to see his family every night, what makes him stay? Duty only takes you so far. Its hard to talk about your duty when your looking at yet another deployment, yet more missed birthdays or worse actual births. The Comraderie is sometime the only thing that keeps you going when you're in the middle of a war zone, but when your not, when you're in the rear with the gear, that's not enough.
Every time a re-enlistment window comes up every soldier must look deep down in themselves. Their retention NCO will pester them if they're considered vital, but at the end of the day it comes down to a simple question "what is best for me and my family?" Benefits like TA, like Tricare, like base housing, like MWR, might tip the equation more in favor of staying. Take away those benifits, and the choice is clear. Even if you love your job. Even if you truly love the Army, you have to take care of your family first.
Suspending TA will gut the largest and perhaps the most important side of the Army and Marine Corps. This is clearly a political move, and it is calculated to put pressure on the Legislature to let the Executive Branch have its way. Regardless of whose idea it was or how high up it went, it was a bad idea that has ramifications for the future. We can not keep using the troops as political pawns in a game between waring branches of Government. People will die, not in some theoretical calculation, of what might happen, there is a certainty in war, that people will die, and the only real question is how many. The better your military is the fewer that will be.