Tom Slear, a retired Army reserve Lieutenant Colonel, has recently made the argument that his military benefits package is far too generous given his service. I agree with him. The LtCol's 23 years in the Army reserve, while respectable, was largely during a time of peace for our nation. The challenges and day to day life that he faced while on a weekend drill period, is a far cry from the multiple deployments and operational tempo that our current active duty and reservist forces face.
According to Veterans for Common Sense, from 2001 to 2012, 2,333,972 military members deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. 1,002,106 deployed multiple times. The Rand Corporation put that at over 1.5 million troop years in operations just in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of 2009. LtCol Slear mentioned that approximately 2.25 million servicemen have not deployed to a combat zone. Since no sources were mentioned, I can only speculate as to where this number came from, out of context it is highly misleading.
Now that we have closed the Iraq War and are winding down the war in Afghanistan, one expects that our nation's military tempo will slow down. The reality of the situation is anything but. The scale of military operations have certainly changed, but the number is ever increasing. As of 31 March, 235,291 active duty personnel are currently overseas. Of those, about 33,000 are in Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
This means, at any given time, we have 15% of our total active military overseas in roles other than war. It means humanitarian missions, peacekeeping, security and cooperation operations. It means we proactively keep world stability. In a vacuum, the Taliban were able to seize power and create a haven for militant networks. Our costly war in Afghanistan could have been prevented with the kinds of engagement policies our leaders have set forth. A cost savings, in treasure and lives, I'm sure LtCol Slear would appreciate.
There are many who do not deploy. There are special duty assignments, such as career recruiters, Drill Instructors and Drill Sergeants, or highly specialized MOS's, such as an UAV surveillance pilots, that fill an extremely critical role in our respective services. To point to this fact, and insinuate that they are somehow undeserving, is a naïve perspective. They might not see the danger of combat at any given moment, but these servicemen and women will regularly work 14 hour days, seven days a week. These men and women are some of the hardest working people in America and they do it, because they asked for the job.
The legal clerks, medical, and logistics personnel that deploy are there because they support our warfighters. American life does not stop simply because an infantryman is on patrol. These support personnel understand why they go forward and are at risk. And yes, they are at risk. An IED does not discriminate against your military occupation. A sniper merely sees a uniform and a target. A rocket lobbed into a base will kill whomever is around. Support or otherwise, everyone in a combat zone is at risk. To say otherwise, is also naïve.
The benefits package is substantial. Servicemen and women have the medical facilities of the VA should they serve and not retire. If they do retire, they'll have access to Tricare for life. Our Navy and Army medicine is some of the finest in the country. The Department of Defense is one of the last places that offers a traditional pension, instead of 401(k)s that gamble away a life's savings on the stock market.
But, let's look at the numbers for the average service member, not at the Lieutenant Colonel's salary. The majority of our ranks, particularly in the Marine Corps, are comprised of enlisted members that are an E5 or below on the military pay scale. That E5 is not usually considered a career serviceman, many see that rank somewhere around their 5th or 6th year enlisted. They make $2,550 per month in pre-tax salary. This six year military member, most likely married with children, makes just enough to keep him off of food stamps. A family of four, whose breadwinner is an E4, is eligible for these. They live at or below the federal poverty level.
LtCol Slear says, "Simply put, I'm getting more than I gave." He is correct. Many have given more than he. Our nation's history has given us many amazing men and women who paid life and limb for the rest of us. The taxpayer has bestowed our national military their pay and allowances specifically because they deserve it. The Department of Defense is one of the true meritocracies in the world. You work, you work hard, you'll be compensated for it.
After the decade of war we've been through, Americans understand what it means to sacrifice, thanks to our military personnel. It is a shame that LtCol Slear left our ranks in 2001. He would have experienced what these wars were like from the ground, not a television. As Oliver North, a contemporary of LtCol Slear, noted in a speech in 2009,"The average combatant during WWII saw approximately 40 days of actual combat. In Korea, the average was approximately 180 days . . In Vietnam we saw an average of approximately 240 days of combat per tour . . Now research is revealing that our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are experiencing over 310 days of combat."
That is 310 days, per deployment, that you do not know if you will live or die.
A extremely small subsection of this country steps up into military service. Less than one percent, 0.71 percent of our citizens, comprise the whole of our Armed forces, active, reserve and guard. Given all that these men and women are asked to and do accomplish, why should they suffer under the guise of fiscal politics?
We give massive tax breaks to the private sector, huge sums of money for international aid packages and have any number of other things on the table. Yet, singled out by a lone, retired Officer, who obviously believes he is overpaid, are military pensions. Whatever his motives are, they are lost on me; politicizing what should have little to no political division, about one of the most storied occupations of our nation, seems almost...dishonest.
Personally, I question your judgment, Sir.