I am a United States Soldier currently serving in Afghanistan with the 1-279th Infantry Regiment, 45th IBCT, and I am writing you today to express my deep concern regarding the new “budget plan” the White House recently released.
According to this “plan”, the White House proposes to freeze all salary rates for military personnel. Additionally, Housing allowances will be frozen, while medical insurance (Tri-Care) premiums and co-payments are spiked to (using their language) “levels commensurate to current national levels”.
Furthermore, this proposed “budget plan” takes aim at our current retirement structure, obliterating it entirely and instituting a government controlled “401k” style of retirement system.
Senator, I cannot express to you how unsettling and disturbing this is to me. I have read the President’s Joint Committee Report entitled, “Living Within Our Means and Investing in the Future” and I must say I am gravely disappointed, concerned and offended.
In his report, the President states, “The men and women who serve their fellow Americans in the Armed Forces and civil service are patriots who work for the Nation often at great personal sacrifice. Just as families and businesses must tighten their belts to live within their means, so must the Federal Government. One area to examine is the retirement and health benefits offered to the Federal military and civilian workforce.”
The President further goes on to state, “The Administration is proposing a group of reforms to better align these retirement programs with the private sector, while still preserving the Federal Government’s ability to recruit and retain the personnel that the American people need.”
Senator, it is challenging to find the words that adequately express how disturbed I am by the language used. Sure, it sounds very regal and honorable; however, the underlying message here is that, “Military personnel have not paid their “fair share” and need to sacrifice more.” I want to ask the President, “Are you kidding me?”
Senator, this is my 4th Deployment overseas with this unit. President Clinton sent me to Bosnia in 1997-98. President Bush (Jr.) sent me to Afghanistan in 2003-04 and Iraq in 2007-08. Now I am back in Afghanistan under the orders of President Obama. Every deployment has been hard. Every one of them has been a sacrifice; but I have no regrets. I love being a proud member of this institution and I am honored to serve with the men and women who stand here beside me.
Sir, it’s difficult to describe in words what life is like over here. The War on Terror, now “officially” 10-years old, is still alive and well out here regardless of what the spin is back home. To date, my Brigade has lost twelve men, eight of whom were from my battalion; one was a very close personal friend. The media really doesn’t mention much about the wounded… we’ve had our share; men whose lives are forever changed, years of physical therapy and rehabilitation in their future. The rest of us continue on, moving forward with the mission and trying to stay focused despite the huge hole left in our lives at the loss of our brothers. We face hostile fire and uncertainty around every corner. We jump and stand ready to kill the things that go “bump” in the night. We live in a continuous state of tension and stress. We watch our fellow service members die. We carry them off the battlefield without even the opportunity to say goodbye. We weep together in whatever “private” solitude we can find. All we have is each other to lean on. There is a gut-wrenching and horrifying story to be told of what goes on here; things that the “general public” never has the misfortune of seeing. The “sanitized” press releases sent back home protect and shield them from the gruesome details.
The anguish and strain that our families are forced to endure is beyond comprehension. ESPECIALLY for the families of services members who are away at war. People are dying over here... OUR people. Our families don't have the luxury of watching TV, hearing about casualties, and then politely dismissing the news as "unfortunate" or "sad". For them, it is a horror they live with every day and every night. They spend their waking hours in dread and sleepless nights in fear of that horrifying news that their loved one... their life partner; son or daughter is gone. Or to hear the news... and for a brevity of a millisecond, be grateful that it isn't THIER loved one... only to be immediately plagued with guilt and remorse; for they know that another family, one of OUR military family, is forever shattered. It is an unspeakable and horrible situation that they must face, and embrace, each day. As we here on the front face the war, our families are every bit engaged in battle back home. Yet... they still keep our homes in order... still look out for us... impatiently waiting, hoping, praying and longing for that day when we return.
I’m not trying to place Military Service Members and our families on a plateau above the rest of the citizens of our great Nation. But it seems utterly incomprehensible to me that my Commander in Chief would take the position that members of the Armed Forces need to “Tighten our belts” and sacrifice like the rest of the country?!? Really? Our numbers make up less than 1% of the entire population (just over .7% if the last census numbers are correct). Less than ONE PERCENT of all U.S. citizens take this oath and subject themselves to this lifestyle and we do it without regret. Yet, somehow this isn’t enough?
In the President’s Joint Committee Report, he states, “… As a result, compared to the private sector, the Federal retirement program can seem generous.” Really? I didn’t feel that “generosity” the day I carried my dear friend, off the battlefield. I can guarantee his wife and two daughters didn’t feel that “generosity” when they watched him lowered into the ground; nor the millions of other service member families who have had to endure the unspeakable horror of their loved one “paying the ultimate sacrifice”. Painting a picture to the general public that we, the members of the United States Armed Forces, are somehow receiving a “perk” that is too generous is a clear demonstration of someone who is utterly detached from the stark reality that we live in.
As I mentioned above, we (Military service members) make up less than one percent of the population. I suppose that makes us an attractive target for a fiscal agenda. We don’t have much voting power based upon our numbers. It would seem this new budget proposal is laden with delicate language so as to convince the general public that this government restructuring of federal benefits is for the greater good. However, lumping military service members into this broad-brushed effort and trying to convince the public that we are, in some way, receiving an unfair “entitlement” is woefully wrong. It’s as if there is some twisted belief that we are somehow impervious to the rising cost of living that everyone else in the nation is enduring. Believe me, we feel it too. We pay the increasing prices just like everyone else. We pay taxes and we budget to live within our means. To imply that we haven’t “tightened our belts” like the rest of the country is grossly incorrect and a flat-out deception.
Senator, we need your help. Someone must stop this madness. Sacrificing what few benefits the military has for the sake of “public approval ratings” is not the answer. Hundreds of Billions of dollars are squandered on frivolous earmarks and mismanaged projects. We can do better than what the President is proposing.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I realize this has been a rather long-winded appeal but, I felt you deserved more than just the typical 1-paragraph rant you might typically receive from a concerned citizen.
God bless you in your efforts. I appreciate your support of what we do.