Dear Mr. Secretary:
In a Veteran’s Day message released last night, you said:
From the oldest veterans to the men and women currently serving our nation, all Americans who have served in uniform deserve the nation’s appreciation and respect on this uniquely special American Day [sic].
Turning out flowery phrases on Veteran’s Day is de rigueur for politicians, of course. But last week, in a keynote address at a forum sponsored by a prominent D.C. think tank, you told it straight: One of your top priorities is to cut troops’ and retirees’ pay and benefits.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Tuesday that troops and their families will be asked to sacrifice on pay and benefits to preserve readiness in an era of tighter budgets.
Hagel listed politically-charged changes to compensation and personnel policy as one of his top six priorities in reforming the military following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the department gears up to meet new challenges.
As a military wife of 26 years, Mr. Secretary, I agree. This country is in dire economic straits, and cuts to pay and benefits are needed–across the board. Sacrificing for this country is the military family lifestyle, and we’re ready to do it again.
But we take the lead in war–shouldn’t you take the lead here? Show us how it’s done, Mr. Secretary! Cut your pay and your benefits until it hurts. Cut the President’s, and Congress’s, and the High Court’s. We are absolutely ready to follow your lead—but it’s time for you to lead.
This country made a promise to us, and we’ve depended on that promise in building our lives. Our end of the bargain was to give up safety, and sleep, and freedom from fear-as-a-constant-presence, and family birthdays and Christmases together and a whole host of other things—including many of our friends. When we were in our 20s, my husband wore out a uniform going to friends’ funerals. That’s a lot of funerals, Mr. Secretary.
We kept our end of the bargain.
And, in return, our country promised us the pay and benefits you want to cut.
As SecDef, you know that many junior enlisted soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines live near or below the poverty level. For years Congress has been trying to get the best military in the world–at a discount. A new E-1, for example, makes $18 thousand a year.
I drive past Joint Base Lewis McChord on a regular basis, Mr. Secretary–and past the slovenly motels hunkered along the freeway near the post gates. Why is the strip outside the gates so shabby? Because those are the places young enlisted families can afford to stay as they PCS on or off post. If this Administration truly cares for the poor, why are you talking about cutting their pay and benefits?
And then there are those of us at or near retirement age. We’ve made our retirement plans based on the benefits our country promised us. We don’t have a Plan B, Mr. Secretary, because we trusted our country. An honorable government keeps its promises, especially to the people who put their lives on the line at the President’s command.
Many of us could have made more in the private sector, but we chose duty, honor, country. I respectfully suggest you do the same, Mr. Secretary. It is our duty, and our honor, to give self-sacrificing obedience. It is your duty, and your honor, to give self-sacrificing leadership. Step up and lead the way by cutting your own pay and benefits. Where you lead, we will proudly follow.
Want to honor a vet today? Take a moment to email the President, one of your Senators or your Representative. Tell them our vets kept their end of the bargain; now it’s time for us to keep ours. Click here for their contact info.