How does a professional soldier differ from a civilian employee?

Oh, let me count the ways. I’m married to one, so I should know, right?

In the past few weeks, I’ve posted frequently about the potential–and immediate–changes the military faces to retirement, ostensibly in the wake of the budget crisis here, here, here and here. The plan, however, saves pennies compared to the true budget woes we suffer as it offers up on a silver platter those who have fought and bled for our country for the past ten years of a multi-front war. The proposals would not “grandfather” any troops in to aid in the effort of trimming the numbers for a reason: if people separate from the military involuntarily through what’s called a Reduction in Force (RIF), then the proposed “retirement” they could take would be a consolation prize of sorts. Mind you, the Defense Business Board’s (DBB) proposal would require Congressional approval, but the talk among the ranks isn’t positive, to say the least. It’s difficult to prepare for extensive training and separation from family–let alone a deployment to war–if you feel you’re getting the shaft, and that everything you’ve worked for, that your family has suffered for, will be for naught.

One of the comments I received regarding the proposed changes to military retirement is a worthy read. Ben, an active-duty Army Officer, commented here. These are his words entirely:

I have talked to many Soldiers, NCO’s and fellow Officers and one of the big concerns is our contract. Every Soldier today signed a contract with the US Army with an agreement for a retirement at 20 years. If the government can make this change and turn around and tell the Soldiers to just deal with it, then what is next. What else will they change in our contract and then turn around and say we are the government deal with it, what’s the point of the contract.

The proposal mentions several times a comparison between the Military and the Civilian work force. Well, show me a Civilian job in which the worker is gone training for up to 3 to 6 months total throughout the year and then when complete with training deploys for up to a year, not to mention during that year deployment there is a large group of people trying as hard as they can to kill you. Then God willing the member makes it home after the deployment, and 70% of the time must pack up his/her family and move them somewhere else. The constant PCS moves every two to three years for a Soldier is extremely hard on the family, the children must move schools and make new friends, the spouse must attempt to find a new job which in itself is difficult due to the employer knowing he or she will be leaving within two to three years. This type of constant movement for the Service member makes it almost impossible for a spouse to generate any type of retirement.

A Service member after 20 years of service is most of the time completely broken, they have bad knees, backs, ankles and hearing loss to mention a few. All of these problems are due to 20 years of dealing with Combat, explosions, shooting weapons, foot marches, jumping out of airplanes, and daily running and other physical activities. After a 20 year Service obligation the average 40-year-old Soldiers body is worn down and more closely related to a 65-year-old Civilian.

The proposal makes a statement that a Soldier E-1 thru E-4 under the new plan can make up to $20,000 if they invest 16.5% of their pay for four years. I have been a Company Commander for 33 months and I do not know one E-1 thru E-4 who can afford to deposit 16.5% of their pay and still be able to survive financially. The proposal also states that the old plan is unfair to all who do not retire because they receive nothing. Like I said earlier all Soldiers voluntarily sign a contract and understand what they are getting into. But, when it comes down to it, a Soldier receives many things, the Soldier receives to mention a few, discipline, an understanding of self-worth, team work, equal opportunity training, sexual harassment training, job experience, respect from the community, credibility from civilian companies, and the military GI Bill for future education. Any person who joins the military and leaves under honorable conditions, leaves as a better person and will be a great contributor to the Civilian community and work force.

To say that anyone leaving the military before 20 years gets nothing is not only wrong but an uneducated statement. The US Service member is a Professional and the 20 year retirement is not just deserved but owed due to the contract we signed. A professional athlete provides entertainment to the public and they make millions, a Service member is a professional and provides protection and freedom to the public and we make pennies but we do not complain. If they take away our retirement they take away any incentive for the career Soldier to stay and they take away what all Service members have worked for, planned for, fought for, and many others have died for. Why would anyone join the Military as a Career when they can join a safer Civilian job with the same benefits? The US Armed Forces is 1% of the US population, I’m sure we can find, and save, several Trillion dollars if we tap into the other 99% who earned their freedom thru the Military’s sacrifice

Ben is right.

Is this what we owe our military? Is this what we owe military families? I could care less about daycare, sports on post, or the commissary specials. Privatize it all and send in Wal-Mart. But to save $254 billion over the course of 20 years on the back of the men and women who have deployed continuously for the past 10 is unconscionable. Our will has not been broken over the last decade, despite all odds. I have seen much heartache. More than I care to discuss. But I have also had the privilege to see the strongest women. To be among them. Women who can toss the tear-stained daddy dolls in the washing machine and prop flat daddy up for bedtime stories. We are not civilians, either. We serve that 20, too. It’s not possible to compare us in “fairness” to civilian households with a dad who works 9-5 at a desk and who comes home in time for dinner and bathtime nightly. That’s not the life our soldier signed up for, nor is it the life we live.

If the government found the idea of defaulting on debt payments so disturbing, why isn’t anyone particularly disturbed about breaking the contract of those who currently serve? 

Change military retirement for those who sign the dotted line today. Tomorrow. Forever, if you will. But not for the men and women who have donned the uniform for the past decade.

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2 Responses

  1. […] How does a professional soldier differ from a civilian employee? […]

  2. […] How does a professional soldier differ from a civilian employee? […]

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