David Wood enjoys something most members of the US military do not. He has the luxury of performing poorly in his job and living to tell about it.
Mr. Wood published a Huffington Post article earlier this year originally titled “After a Decade of Lavish Benefits, Military Personnel Fear Cuts.” This lamentable array of words, a cheap literary hook designed to ensnare fiscally paranoid readers by construing military members as trough-feeding elites defensively crouched over burgeoning piles of cash, was inexplicably changed Tuesday. But not before Mr. Wood managed to rack up nearly 40,000 votes of approval on Facebook. And not before he managed to cultivate an ugly and undeserved myth that can only harm the soul of a nation: the myth that America’s fighting men and women are some sort of high-on-the-hog mercenary force. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mr. Wood, though you’re likely to never read these words, let me address you directly as a veteran. I understand that you’re against war in general. I understand you were against the invasion of Iraq. It might surprise you just how many veterans agree with you on these matters. But sir, despite your admirable credentials and even given the benefit of the doubt, you’ve managed to pen an article so careless with the image of the American veteran that it should not have seen the light of day. I assume without meaning to do so, you’ve insulted the quiet, unassuming ethic of the American veteran by saying things that beg to be challenged, thereby inviting your subjects to defend themselves against your words, which they do at the risk of appearing prideful, something almost universally abhorred in the veteran culture.
So I appeal to you, Mr. Wood. Before you pick up your pen again, take care in your thoughts and how you express them. Take care that you don’t express manifestly incorrect notions that your readership, trusting your Pulitzer credentials and your evident sensibility, might wrongly share, forward, and ultimately, legitimize.
To say that military pay and benefits have “soared far above civilian comparison” is either misguided or disingenuous, but in either case, deeply wrong. To the extent military pay and benefits have been kept competitive, this has been necessary to keep enough qualified warriors in uniform to get the job done. If anything, the use of pay has been a cynical instrument employed to prevent mass abandonment of an activity bent on grinding people and their families into a fine powder. The level of sacrifice asked of our military in recent years is historically unprecedented, and America’s warriors are not getting rich enduring it. In fact, 1.5 million of them need food stamps to supplement their incomes, scores have trouble finding post-service employment, and tens of thousands will live the rest of their lives without ever being made whole again, having left things on the battlefield that defy monetary valuation. Military members make their decisions concerning whether or not to stay in uniform on the basis of many criteria, pay and benefits among these. Each family has its own situation and hence its own calculus. C’est la guerre. But until machine press operators and gas station attendants start spending 12 months away from their families and living constantly under the threat of getting blown apart by an IED, you and your readers should consider any comparison of military and civilian pay fundamentally invalid.
But just out of curiosity … who exactly do you think is overpaid? Generalities are fun, but whose “lavish” pay should be slashed? The 20-year-old Ohioan struggling to understand Pashto while he orchestrates installation of a water filtration system in a village that has resisted improvement since before Alexander the Great? Maybe the 32-year-old Californian responsible for guiding a 50,000-pound aircraft moving at the speed of sound to a precise point in time and space where she will deliver a Volkswagen-sized munition to a point on the Earth no bigger than a hopscotch court … knowing she will kill her own teammates or allow the enemy to kill them if she gets it wrong? Or maybe the 40-year-old Floridian whose success is defined by whether his ability to train, motivate, inspire, and focus the 500 people in his charge will be enough to keep them alive in a war where neither the enemy nor the objective are understood and the source of the next attack is never known? You’re not talking about “personnel” my friend … you’re talking about “people.” Individuals with talents, capabilities, and courage that scare the living hell out of enemies. They are a bargain at twice the current rate, fiscal pressures be damned.