I am writing in response to the article written by David Wood in The Huffington Post on January 30 about the rising cost of military personnel salaries and benefits. The article stated that:
"For more than a decade, Congress and the Pentagon have lavished money on the nation's 1.3 million active-duty troops and their families. Salaries and benefits soared far above civilian compensation, military bases and housing were refurbished, support services like day care, family counseling and on-base college courses were expanded."
Our reality as a military family is quite different. My husband has been an active duty infantryman in the Army since January 2011. He has a college degree from a respected university, but he chose to join the army as enlisted because he wanted to be a "boots on the ground" soldier; he feels it is his duty to serve his country by putting in the back-breaking work necessary. For the four months that he was at Basic Combat Training (or BCT, as it's known), we had to scrounge to get by. All enlisted soldiers get paid as Privates regardless of their actual rank. (In my husband's case, that was a Specialist, four ranks higher.)
During this time, I did some fancy sleight of hand to make sure we could get by. Our cars, which we had always paid more than the minimum payment on, were switched to just the least we could pay. I stopped eating out. I considered cancelling some of our utilities, like cable and Internet if necessary. Even with my full-time job, it was a squeeze.
Immediately following graduation from BCT, my husband was assigned a unit and found out that he'd be deploying shortly afterwards. For that reason, I stayed in the humble apartment we'd lived in since graduating college, kept my job as a teacher, and sent my husband to war with a tearful goodbye at an airport; I couldn't even be there for the official send-off (or, months later, the return celebration).
While my husband was deployed, money was no longer tight. With the added benefit of hazard pay and separation pay, we were no longer living paycheck to paycheck.
But how much should he have been getting paid? Every single day my husband was putting his life on the line. He wasn't sitting behind a desk, he wasn't in the comfort of home, at one point, his combat outpost didn't have heat or food or water. Above and beyond the fact that he was in a war zone and in danger day in and day out and the toll that can take on the soldier and their family, he also went without so many things that are taken for granted by average American citizens: he couldn't kiss his wife goodnight (we could barely Skype, the connection was so bad), he couldn't text a friend when he was having a bad day, he couldn't watch the Super Bowl or any sporting events for that matter, he couldn't pet his dog on the head to start the morning, he couldn't celebrate birthdays and holidays with family members for over an entire calendar year, he couldn't even be present when his brother received a long-awaited double lung transplant.
So yes, during that year, my husband was being compensated, and rightly so. How much would you expect someone to be paid for giving up things that can't be given back?
We are currently living in Germany. When I arrived here, there were six job openings for military spouses. Six. Despite my degree, my teaching experience, the high praise from my references, there was no job for me. Making us a single-income family.
As we gear up for yet another international move, we are looking at paying out of pocket for a long list of expenses. The Army will pay to ship our car, but it will take two months to get to our next duty station. A rental car for two months costs upwards of $2,500, and that's for the smallest possible car. We'll have to find a place to live in a town we've never seen before. (We have applied for on-post housing, but were told that we are number 177 on the list.) And when we find and rent a home, we'll be living there for two months with no belongings as they will also be in transit. We've discussed buying a futon, another out of pocket expense, so we won't have to sleep on the floor for 60-plus days.
Does this sound lavish to you? My husband is a hard-working man who knew what he was trading in when he joined up. At that time, the Army offered us benefits, and well, I guess I expect that the Army fulfill its side of the deal. I know my husband has done his part.
Are we scared about cuts? Yes, we are! Anyone whose livelihood and benefits are being threatened, however lavish they may seem to others, would be scared. Are there places where cuts can be made? Yes! And they should be, but not the expense of our ability to get by, not if it means going back on what we signed up for, not on the backs of the men and women who are enlisted, who aren't fat cats, who aren't making six figures.