U.S. Government should put soldiers first

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Since 1954, the U.S. has celebrated Veterans Day on Nov. 11 — the same November day that the Allies signed the armistice with Germany and ended World War I in 1918. On Veterans Day, Facebook feeds fill with expressions of gratitude, streets are crowded with parades and former soldiers visits schools across the country.

While much of the country gives thanks for its veterans’ services and honors their sacrifices, the U.S. government does not do enough to display the same appreciation. Although members of our armed forces are provided housing and receive a food allowance, their salaries are not worthy of the sacrifices many of them make and the struggles many of them and their families face.

The starting salary for enlisted soldiers in the U.S. Army is about $19,000 per year. The Staff Sergeant rank, which is the highest rank before a soldier becomes an officer, makes just over $36,400 per year after six years of service. Some argue that this amount of money is more than enough because it is more than soldiers would make if they were working in the civilian sector. Others say that the soldiers did not join the military for the money and that it is a fine amount of money for many of the soldiers who are single without any dependents.

The public sector may pay better than the private sector, but do we want our government to treat our soldiers the same way the private sector treats its employees? The government must finance its programs efficiently and save money when it can, but it should not be run like a business, especially when soldiers do not enjoy some of the options other employees receive.

For instance, soldiers lack the ability to strike or protest their treatment or pay through unionization. Title 10 of the U.S. Code forbids members of the armed forces from “striking, picketing, marching, demonstrating, or any other similar form of concerted action which is directed against the Government of the United States.” This is, in part, understandable because the military must be cohesive, but it still limits the power of these federal employees. To compare soldiers to minimum wage employees is not a fair comparison.

We also should not point at minimum wage workers and suggest soldiers could be in their shoes. The plight of a citizen earning poverty wages should not be trivialized in the discussion of a soldier’s wages. No one should make less than they need to ensure their family lives comfortably. And to this point, many soldiers have families at home who need the soldier’s salary to survive. Not all soldiers chose to enlist out of pride for their country. Many soldiers enlist because serving their country is the best way to provide for their family.

When soldiers are more focused on sending paychecks home and making sure their families make do with what they have, they cannot perform their jobs as effectively as they could in an economically preferred situation. While certain benefits to the soldier do go a long way — such as the housing, food, healthcare and tax advantages while in service — they do not provide for a family in the same way that other jobs do. A member of the armed forces may receive benefits with their salary that push their salary north of $50,000 per year, but their families are not always the beneficiaries.

There can be huge costs to veterans, including loss of limbs and PTSD, both of which can reduce their chances of employment in the private sector and disable them from providing for those that depend on them. When our armed service members are stationed abroad or across the country, they are separated from home and family. The U.S. military uses the idea of seeing the world as a marketing tactic, but service can be and often is difficult for servicemembers and their families.

In an age where we spend so much of our country’s defense budget on technology (Lockheed Martin, an aerospace company, prices an F35 Lightning II fighter jet at $75 million in today’s dollars) we should be able to pay our soldiers more. Investments in technology are practical. The world is moving away from soldiers on the ground. But allowing our soldiers to provide for their families is practical, too.