I am writing in response to the editorial "A lump of coal: Clinton's budget increases military presents, freezes healthcare" in your Feb. 15 edition (p. 24). The column wonders what happened to the "peace dividend" and laments Clinton's budget request for a big jump in military spending when "conventional wisdom" said healthcare would gain financial support as the military was downsized.
The peace dividend has been paid in full. Those payments began when the Berlin Wall fell in 1990 and have continued every year since. Military spending was not just cut to the bone; entire limbs were hacked off.
What we pay our soldiers and sailors to risk their lives to defend our freedom is criminal. Calculated at an hourly rate, payment is well below minimum wage. And our military has no 401(k) plan or other investment programs. The only retirement plan for men and women in the military is simple: Serve 20 years' active duty and retire to draw 35% of your base salary until death.
This retirement plan used to be 50% of base salary, but two years ago our politicians decided to cut it as part of the "peace dividend."
Our soldiers and sailors are not financially inept. They also noticed the "percolating economy," as you described it, and they have been leaving the military in droves for better-paying jobs in the private sector. This is a particular problem among officers.
The recent military budget increases are clearly an attempt to stem the tide of voluntary discharges, attract solid leadership and reverse the trend of wholesale deterioration in our military readiness.
While federal healthcare spending is no less important an item in our national budget, let us understand both sides of the issue before we smear military spending. Your editorial is an example of the attitude that has historically caused this country to gut its peace-time military on the premise of a "peace dividend" and then wonder why so many good men and women must die to restore that readiness when things suddenly aren't so rosy.
Former U.S. Army officer
Captain, U.S. Army Reserves