Military Haves and Have-Nots

W.J. Astore

Privates should make more, generals should make less, in today’s military

My great nephew recently reported to the local MEPS (military entrance processing station) and took the oath of office. He’s enlisting in the Marine Corps and I wish him all the best.

In November 2021, with him in mind, I wrote an article, “Should you join the U.S. military?” For him, the answer was yes, and I respect his decision.

Enlisting in the U.S. military is a big step for any young adult. And there are certain benefits to it like health care, money for education, some kind of housing (or pay for housing), and of course job training and an identity, e.g “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

There are many drawbacks as well, the biggest, of course, being death. 

Death is a high price to earn a place on the “Gold Star” tree at the White House (Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

One that we often don’t think of, though, is low pay, which is why Andrea Mazzarino’s article at TomDispatch is so telling. Mazzarino, a military spouse, reminds us that more than a few military members are “food insecure.” In other words, they often have to choose between paying their rent and other bills and going hungry, which is another way of saying that the military is a (distorted) reflection of American society.

Here’s an excerpt from Mazzarino’s article:

I recently interviewed Tech Sergeant Daniel Faust, a full-time Air Force reserve member responsible for training other airmen. He’s a married father of four who has found himself on the brink of homelessness four times between 2012 and 2019 because he had to choose between necessities like groceries and paying the rent. He managed to make ends meet by seeking assistance from local charities. And sadly enough, that airman has been in all-too-good company for a while now. In 2019, an estimated one in eight military families were considered food insecure. In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, that figure rose to nearly a quarter of them. More recently, one in six military families experienced food insecurity, according to the advocacy group Military Family Advisory Network.

You would think that a military with a colossal yearly budget of $858 billion would pay its troops enough so that they wouldn’t go hungry, but it simply isn’t so. Much of that colossal budget goes to the weapons makers (perhaps we should call them the wealth-takers?). Big companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. Meanwhile, Private Jones, or even Sergeant Smith, is left struggling to put food on the table.

This is a perennial problem. My dad told me how he made $30 a month in the CCC in 1937 even as Army privates were making $19 a month. Small wonder that so few young men leaving the CCC decided to enlist in the military, even after hearing rah-rah recruitment speeches, my dad noted wryly.

Contrast relatively low pay for enlisted troops with the high pay of general officers. The latter make six-figure salaries (with lots of perks) and retire with six-figure pensions. They also usually “sell” their military service to weapons makers after they spin through the revolving door of the military-industrial complex. Lloyd Austin is typical. After retiring as a general officer, he made roughly $1.4 million from 2016 to 2019 in executive compensation from Raytheon. That was, of course, in addition to a generous government pension that paid him another million or so.

No one expects now-Secretary of Defense Austin to have taken vows of poverty upon retirement, but he sure could pay closer attention to the needs of the troops under him. To put it simply, privates should make more and generals less in today’s military.

Young military members are much on my mind as my great nephew prepares for boot camp. Can’t we make sure that they have enough money so that they don’t have to choose between food and rent?

19 thoughts on “Military Haves and Have-Nots

  1. Strangely, it is obvious we (collective) learn nothing about true support of those military members that actually do defend the United States. It we did, the salaries would be reversed or, at the very least, more equitable. We are doomed to ever increasing military budgets that function more to pad pockets than to serve their real purpose.

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  2. ‘Diplomatic Colossal Failure of Century | Jeffrey Sachs & Oliver Stone.’

    Co-incidentally, the last characters in this YouTube video are 404, as in this kind of Truth and Realism cannot be found in the proscribed US/NATO WAR narrative the MSM magnifies and propagates behaving as a 5th Horseman of the Apocalypse.

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  3. Thanks for this Ray. I think you mean ‘prescribed’.
    I didn’t watch the whole video but skipped to the last 5 minutes to hear Jeffrey Sachs ‘confirming’ that the US (or their agents) blew up the Nordstream pipelines.
    What is the provenance of this video Ray? Apart from youtube, where is it from and when and where was Jeffrey Sachs speaking. Who is the other guy in the title picture? Would be interesting to see a transcript (I’m not a big video fan).

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    1. Trevor, I use ‘proscribe’ as the verb Merrium-Webster online defines as,
      a word that characteristically is the grammatical center of a predicate and expresses an act, occurrence, or mode of being, that in various languages IS INFLECTED FOR AGREEMENT with the subject, for tense, for voice, for mood, or for aspect, and that typically has rather full descriptive meaning and characterizing quality but is sometimes nearly devoid of these especially when used as an auxiliary or linking verb.

      Prescribe would also suffice according to Merrium-Webster,
      Proscribe and prescribe each have a Latin-derived prefix that means “before” attached to the verb “scribe” (from scribere, meaning “to write”). Yet the two words have very distinct, often nearly opposite meanings. Why? In a way, you could say it’s the law. In the 15th and 16th centuries both words had legal implications. To proscribe was to publish the name of a person who had been condemned, outlawed, or banished. To prescribe meant “to lay down a rule,” including legal rules or orders.

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      1. Oh. I can’t speak for American English but ‘over here’ prescribe is as in prescription – to specify or insist upon – whereas proscribe is to deny or forbid. So I thought you meant prescribe – what the mainstream media is ‘required’ to deliver which fits exactly with Jeffery Sachs closing remarks. I don’t have a Merriam-Webster but the explanation sounds archaic – can it really be so different in American English? (Of course, the opposite narrative is proscribed).

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          1. right here, ray. you are correct: prOscribe means to deny, denounce, or comdemn some action, activity or behaviour. prEscribe means to insist upon, require, or legislate some action, activity, or behaviour, but not necessarily or consistently in a deferential manner. the recipient of a prEscription can be thelemic about accepting it… videlicet, adopting the attitude of ‘anything goes’ but i will be the arbiter of acceptance or rejection of said-prEscription.

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  4. A very interesting, informative and enlightening interview by Scott Ritter of a retired Swedish General familiar with the Ukraine and Russian Armies, and the weapons systems of WAR.
    He was an OSCE Observer of the Truce between Ukraine and the Russian speaking majority UKRAINIANS who refused to go along with the 2014 US Coup/regime change of the Russian friendly government they voted for, installing an un-elected anti-Russian government.

    I give more credence to this General than I do to all the retired US Generals and Admirals paid to make Americans think a certain way about Russia and the WAR US/NATO is paying for with BORROWED Money and BORROWED Time,

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  5. The best way for every American old enough to think for her or himself to honor Dr Martin Luther King this weekend is to listen to and read the speech he delivered on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York, “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence.”

    The audio of the speech is available at at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQr_e_P-nBA ; and the transcript is at https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm .

    As TIME MAGAZINE put it back in 2019: “The MLK Speech We Need Today Is Not the One We Remember Most”:

    “Most Americans remember Martin Luther King Jr. for his dream of what this country could be, a nation where his children would ‘not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ While those words from 1963 are necessary, his speech ‘Beyond Vietnam,’ from 1967, is actually the more insightful one.

    “It is also a much more dangerous and disturbing speech, which is why far fewer Americans have heard of it. And yet IT IS THE SPEECH THAT WE NEEDED TO HEAR THEN–AND NEED TO HEAR TODAY.” Continued at https://time.com/5505453/martin-luther-king-beyond-vietnam/ ; EMPHASIS added.

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    1. jg moebus
      3 min ago
      When reading and listening to it, bear in mind what CNN reported on the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination in 2018 regarding The Media’s reaction and response to “Beyond Vietnam”: “The verdict was harsh. By one count, SOME 168 MAJOR NEWSPAPERS CONDEMNED THE SPEECH. King became persona non grata at the Johnson White House.

      “‘He has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country and to his people,’ The Washington Post declared.

      “The New York Times, too, published a damning assessment, titled ‘Dr. King’s Error,’ arguing that it was ‘both wasteful and self-defeating’ to link Vietnam with domestic inequity and unrest.

      “‘Dr. King,’ the piece resolved, ‘makes too facile a connection between the speeding up of the war in Vietnam and the slowing down of the war against poverty.’

      “The San Antonio Express ruled that King, ‘gripped’ by some ‘strange logic,’ was ‘tragically wrong in his viewpoint.’

      “‘If King and his group really want to help themselves,’ it continued, ‘they can show a spirit of support now lacking that will make the impression in Hanoi that America is not greatly divided in its determination to honor the commitment in Vietnam.’

      “Others were less measured in their language. Life magazine described the speech as ‘demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi,’ while James Marlow, in his analysis for The Associated Press, suggested King’s drawing together Vietnam and civil rights was a cynical attempt to reclaim the ‘limelight.’

      “‘Some Negro leaders publicly disagreed with these latest tactics of King,’ he wrote. ‘Since he needs all the white and Negro support he can get to start the civil rights movement rolling again, it’s hard to see how he did it anything but injury.’

      “‘Martin Luther King Crosses the Line,’ The Cincinnati Enquirer blared, calling his words ‘arrant nonsense.’

      “The ‘unctuous’ King ‘has been something of a hindrance to the civil rights movement since he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize,’ they wrote. ‘Since the award, he has specialized in speaking in Olympian tones, rather than addressing himself to the practicalities of the civil rights movement.’”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Also bear in mind that exactly one year later to the day, on April 4, 1968, TET 1968 had completely exposed the lies that Washington had been perpetrating and perpetuating about how Great the War was going, and Dr King was dead in Memphis.

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  6. My son is a specialist in the 101st Airborne. Up until recently, he’s been driving Lyft/Uber on the weekends for extra cash to support his wife & newborn child, because the Army doesn’t pay him enough money for rent, food, everything a newborn needs. He’s being deployed to Slovakia in March. Ironically, his paycheck increases with deployment, even though he doesn’t want to leave his wife & child for almost a year.

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    1. Yes, that’s exactly the problem. It’s really hard for young troops to have a family on what they make.

      But you know the old joke: If the Army wanted you to have a wife and kids, they would have issued them to you.

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  7. EXCELLENT new Tom Dispatch piece, Bill.

    It will be interesting to see if anybody in Washington reacts and responds to it. Especially with the very unpleasant task of dealing with the National Debt Limit at the top of the list of things that those folks need to get done.

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    1. Is there any way, Bill, that You could reduce that three page, 2400-word article down to a single page, 500-word summation suitable for publication as a Letter To The Editor, and for use as a flyer at the February 19th RAGE AGAINST THE WAR MACHINE Anti-War Rally in DC [and Elsewhere]?

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