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Monday, August 5, 2013

Think: The Modern-Day Exploitation of the U.S. Military - Part Two

In my last Think post, I talked about the growing disconnect between the civilian world and the military world and how that relates to homecoming exploitation.  Unfortunately, that kind of exploitation isn’t the only type that’s out there.  If you haven’t heard about it, there has been some controversy in the American media regarding military benefits and pay, particularly recently.  A Huffington Post article published at the beginning of this year titled “Defense Budget Faces Cuts to Personnel After Decade of War” talks about ever-expanding cost of military personnel and the “lavish” benefits they receive (the word “lavish” was edited out later, I’m assuming after the backlash of anger hit them square in the face).

Another article, this time by the Washington Post, published on June 1st discussed commissary closures in order to trim the overall Department of Defense budget and also included a graphic titled “Booming Military Benefits” that showcased the ever-increasing costs of active duty pay and benefits and retirees’ pension and benefits.  The article seems to be written with an almost accusatory tone that sneers at the “luxuries” the commissaries offer, including “two dozen varieties of Ocean Spray cranberry juice and 15 types of ketchup.”

The article also included this quote comparing military and civilian salaries:
In an era when private employers are reducing health care and pensions, the military continues to offer generous retirement benefits, including to service members who have never spent a day in combat. For troops who remain in uniform for 20 years or more, the military provides an annual pension immediately upon retirement — even if the retiree is 38 years old — equivalent to at least half of their final-years salary. Enrollment for an entire family in a military health-care plan that operates much like a private health maintenance organization will cost a retiree just $539 this year, about one-ninth of what the average non-military family will pay out of pocket in HMO premiums. Those on active-duty also have bucked national trends. Over the past decade, military salaries have grown at a faster rate than those of civilian workers. The average enlisted soldier now earns more than 90 percent of Americans who have less than two years of college. Most Army captains — the third-most-junior rank of officer — will take home more than $90,000 this year.”
Simply put, this article floored me for many, many reasons.  First of all, the 15 types of ketchup comment is plainly ridiculous.  I’ve been to a few commissaries around the country in my day, and I have never seen 15 kinds of ketchup on the shelves.  This blatant hyperbole on the author’s part serves no purpose except to inflame the general public regarding the “excesses” the “elite” military community has access to and rile civilians up since this is all on their, the taxpayers’ dime.  (No one mentions how the military has to pay taxes as well, but that doesn’t serve the author’s purpose so it’s clearly not relevant!)  But seriously, guys.  IT’S KETCHUP.

Someecards are just perfect for my snarky mood.
And the comments comparing military and civilian pay are no better.  After over a DECADE of war, I don’t see how it even begins to make sense to compare military and civilian salaries.  These men and women are off fighting wars to protect our freedoms (at least, that’s the story we’ve been told, so I’ll stick with it) and DYING in these wars, and people are complaining that civilians should be making just as much as them in their cushy jobs?  (For the record, this statement in NO WAY belittles or diminishes those who work in dangerous jobs, particularly in dangerous public service jobs.  In fact, I would happily argue that they should also obviously be paid more than the average no-danger civilian job, many of which are, but not all.)

Not only that, but comparing a normal, average 9 to 5 or 8 to 5 civilian job or even a civilian job with odd hours and lots of overtime to the jobs of military personnel is ridiculous.  I really don’t think people understand just how much service members actually work, and not to mention how much of that work they don’t even get paid for.  There isn’t any overtime in the U.S. military, so there isn’t any overtime pay.  Your CO decided you needed to work a few 16, 18, or 20 hour days this week?  Doesn’t matter, your pay stays exactly the same.  If military members were compensated for the actual amount of work that they did, then they would absolutely be as rich as civilians imagine they must be.  But unfortunately, that clearly is not the case.

I could continue to argue back and forth with the points of this particular article, but I quite honestly don't need to, especially since Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret.) debunked many of the myths these articles and many others perpetuate (yay for facts!).  Regardless, I’d like to move on to the bigger picture here.  I’m sensing a shift in the American populace’s opinion of the military, and it doesn’t feel like a positive change in the least.  Libarmywife of Leftface: The Other Milspouse Blog puts it pretty bluntly in her article, “Thanks of a Grateful Nation -- Not So Much!!”:
“In a time of shrinking budgets, sequestration and recession, the American public has turned to the very group they have been celebrating with parades and flags; praising with effusive speeches and sticky sentimentality; for whom they have placed flags and bumper stickers on their precious vehicles.  Or should I say ‘turned on that community’.”
Another Leftface article, “Imagine My Shock and Awe When, Mere Days…” (a really GREAT article, you should take the time to read it) has this to say about the journalists writing these articles:
 The big issue is how journalist after journalist makes up numbers to support the idea that we’re sucking America dry, and one after another they assume a voice of outrage and condescension. They imply that only the stupid and unemployable join up. They imply service members don’t deserve pay equal to civilians and definitely don’t deserve all these extra benefits because they’re somehow less than…  
…A fair report, a fair national discussion, would look at the actual, real, factual numbers related to military personnel spending and would include actual, real, factual reporting on the experiences and the sacrifices milfams and service members make on a regular basis.
You know, the things that affect morale, readiness, and attrition. The things that must be offset with incentives in this wonderful capitalist society we live in. The things that, in the balance, don’t look so bad when you see at least there’s this program and that benefit, and also I get to serve my country and do some good when compared to the cushy civilian life with its roots and its stability and its better salaries and better hours and better benefits and its marked lack of IEDs and mines. Not to mention the improved opportunities for milspouses to have a fulfilling and potentially lucrative career s/he almost never can have when uprooted every two years.”
What exactly is going on here in the U.S. when the kinds of articles like the one from the Washington Post are being published?  Is this a case of the attitudes of the general populace dictating the pen of the author, or is it perhaps the author attempting to influence the masses?  I honestly don’t know, but I do find it scary, especially when things like benefits are on the line for those actively keeping our nation safe.  We’ve been a nation at war for twelve years now.  TWELVE years.  When you have a war, people have to fight it for you, and when people have to fight it for you, you have to pay them.  The civilian populace is feeling out the difference between their pay and the pay of the military, and many don’t like what they’re seeing, especially in terms of the benefits.  They see it as unfair, unbalanced, and wrong.

But if those civilians truly don’t believe that military members actually deserve those benefits or deserve equal pay after fighting and sometimes even dying in those wars to defend this country, what exactly does that say about those civilians?  What kind of people does that make them if they feel that service members are “less than” them?  Definitely not the kind of person I’d want to fight for.

Personally, I feel that a lot of misinformation and bias is being floated around in the media now, and, just like in every other situation similar to this, we have to be vigilant and on the look out for the truths among the falsities.  We also have to understand that there are some things that are just plain wrong, and in my opinion, threats like this are a slap in the face to everyone who is serving or has served in our nation's military.

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