Apr 14 2009
True article, real response, but the intro contains falsehoods…
Average Number of Times Received Daily at MOAA: 1
An article from 2000 that caused quite a stir in the military community continues to come up from time to time. The article, entitled ‘Our GIs Earn Enough, was written by Cindy Williams, a columnist for the Washington Times can be read here.
The Most Common Iteration
This is an Airman’s response to Cindy Williams’ editorial piece in the Washington Times about MILITARY PAY, it should be printed in all newspapers across America. On Nov. 12, Ms Cindy Williams (from Laverne and Shirley TV show) wrote a piece for the Washington Times, denouncing the pay raise(s) coming service members’ way this year — citing that the stated 13% wage was more than they deserve.
A young airman from Hill AFB responds to her article below. He ought to get a bonus for this.
I just had the pleasure of reading your column, “Our GIs earn enough” and I am a bit confused. Frankly, I’m wondering where this vaunted overpayment is going, because as far as I can tell, it disappears every month between DFAS (The Defense Finance and Accounting Service)and my bank account.
Checking my latest earnings statement I see that I make $1,117.80 before taxes. After taxes, I take home $874.20. When I run that through the calculator, I come up with an annual salary of $13,413.60 before taxes, and $10,490.40, after.
I work in the Air Force Network Control Center where I am part of the team responsible for a 5,000 host computer network I am involved with infrastructure segments, specifically with Cisco Systems equipment. A quick check under jobs for Network Technicians in the Washington, D.C. area reveals a position in my career field, requiring three years experience with my job. Amazingly, this job does NOT pay $13,413.60 a year. No, this job is being offered at $70,000 to $80,000 per annum… I’m sure you can draw the obvious conclusions.
Given the tenor of your column, I would assume that you NEVER had the pleasure of serving your country in her armed forces. Before you take it upon yourself to once more castigate congressional and DOD leadership for attempting to get the families in the military’s lowest pay brackets off of WIC and food stamps, I suggest that you join a group of deploying soldiers headed for AFGHANISTAN ; I leave the choice of service branch up to you.
Whatever choice you make, though, opt for the SIX month rotation: it will guarantee you the longest possible time away from your family and friends, thus giving you full “deployment experience.” As your group prepares to board the plane, make sure to note the spouses and children who are saying good-bye to their loved ones. Also take care to note that several families are still unsure of how they’ll be able to make ends meet while the primary breadwinner is gone obviously they’ve been squandering the “vast” piles of cash the government has been giving them.
Try to deploy over a major holiday; Christmas and Thanksgiving are perennial favorites. And when you’re actually over there, sitting in a foxhole, shivering against the cold desert night; and the flight sergeant tells you that there aren’t enough people on shift to relieve you for chow, remember this: trade whatever MRE (meal-ready- to-eat) you manage to get for the tuna noodle casserole or cheese tortellini, and add Tabasco to everything. This gives some flavor. Talk to your loved ones as often as you are permitted; it won’t nearly be long enough or often enough, but take what you can get and be thankful for it. You may have picked up on the fact that I disagree with most of the points you present in your opened piece.
You see, I am an American fighting man, a guarantor of your First Amendment rights and every other right you cherish. On a daily basis, my brother and sister soldiers worldwide ensure that you and people like you can thumb your collective nose at us, all on a salary that is nothing short of pitiful and under conditions that would make most people cringe. We hemorrhage our best and brightest into the private sector because we can’t offer the stability and pay of civilian companies.
And you, Ms. Williams, have the gall to say that we make more than we deserve? Rubbish!
A1C Michael Bragg Hill AFB AFNCC
IF YOU AGREE, PLEASE PASS THIS ALONG TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE AND SHOW OUR SUPPORT OF THE AMERICAN FIGHTING MEN AND WOMEN. THANK YOU.
The email that spread quickly in 2000 and has continued to appear sporadically incorrectly referred to Mrs. Williams (a former Congressional Budget Office analyst that is now with MIT) as the actress from Laverne & Shirley. There is no connection with the actress except for sharing a name. The airman quoted as being the author of the response is correctly attributed to Michael Bragg.
Evaluation & Comment
The article in question was understandably disturbing given the trials and tribulations of members of the military, and the response was dead on in terms of capturing the emotional response to it. But the email that continues to be spread does not mention that this happened in 2000.
MOAA’s president at the time (actually it is so old that it was TROA’s president) responded with the following letter to the editor:
January 13, 2000
Letters to the Editor
The challenge in responding to former CBO budget analyst Cindy Williams’ column of January 12 (“Our GIs Earn Enough”) is not deciding what to say, but where to begin. Like most documents prepared by budget officials over the last two decades to justify the cuts that led our armed forces into the current retention and readiness crisis, it selectively glossed over several core issues.
Ms. Williams’ assertion that there is no relationship between military and civilian pay levels is wrong. At the advent of the all-volunteer force, military pay tables were restructured to provide what was considered reasonable comparability with pay scales of federal civilian and private sector workers. In theory, this relationship was to be maintained by annual increases matching private sector pay growth. The latter is measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index (ECI), the same private sector pay measure the government uses for all other purposes.
But far more often than not, military (and federal civilian) raises have been capped below that standard. After years of pay caps and cuts in other benefits caused a retention crisis in the late 1970s, the “reasonable comparability” was restored with two double-digit raises in 1981 and 1982 that made up the cumulative military pay raise gap since the start of the all-volunteer force. But the lesson of the 70s wasn’t learned very well. Over the next 17 years, military raises matched private sector pay growth in 3 years, were capped below the ECI in 12, and fractionally exceeded the ECI in 2 years. With the cumulative gap having grown to 13.5% in 1999 and masses of servicemembers voting with their feet, Congress approved a series of annual raises that will be one-half of a percentage point per year above the ECI through 2006. Not overly generous, but a very welcome change for the troops after years of short shrift.
Interestingly, Ms. Williams seems to have no problem accepting the validity of the ECI for future years, contending nothing “explains why [servicemembers'] future raises should exceed civilian wage growth.” If she accepts comparisons with the ECI for the future, how can all the past years of caps be dismissed?
Her comparisons of pay levels also ignore other key factors, despite grudging admission that incoming servicemembers considerably exceed national averages in educational and aptitude achievement. But she fails to acknowledge how servicemembers are asked to assume responsibility for vastly expensive resources, and team leadership — sometimes with staggering life-or-death decision-making responsibilities — at an early age.
Most important, Ms. Williams’ discussion inadequately addresses the fundamental issue the military pay and benefits package must seek to offset — the extraordinary demands and sacrifices inherent in a career of uniformed service. She dismisses this by citing other civilian occupations that may entail relocation or danger. But such comparisons are superficial at best; there is no legitimate comparison with the working conditions of any private sector job.
Servicemembers work long hours (deployed members are on duty 24 hours a day) without any overtime. Their business trips are to places like Bosnia and Iraq and Somalia where they live in tents and people shoot at them. They are subject to extended family separations, forced relocations every few years that disrupt spousal careers and children’s education, and sacrifice personal freedoms (such as saying “no” to your boss without going to jail or being able to quit whenever you want) that other Americans take for granted. Military people can’t serve into their 60’s as civilians do because the law and military readiness won’t let them. They face an “up or out” promotion system that continually winnows out those who fail to keep competing successfully against their ever-improving peers. Roughly 95 percent are forced out of service in their 40s and must start second careers in mid-life — often at the bottom, competing with youngsters who don’t have children in college and are willing to work for less.
Ms. Williams is correct that some of these issues need to be addressed as well. Based on similarly rationalizing analyses by other savings-minded budgeteers, servicemembers have been asked to do more and more with fewer and fewer people, less and less equipment and funding, while enduring pay cap after pay cap for almost two decades. Clearly, pay caps have not been the only pothole in the long, sad road to the services’ current retention and readiness problems.
But pay raise comparability isn’t some esoteric analytical concept; it’s a simple matter of fairness. It isn’t a recruiting issue; it’s a retention issue. Nobody claims that restoring pay comparability is the whole solution to the military readiness crisis staring the country in the face.
But there can be no solution without it.
Michael A. Nelson, Lt Gen, USAF (Ret)
The Retired Officers Association
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