March 14, 2013

A Letter To Mr. David Wood at the Huffington Post

I wrote this letter yesterday in response to Mr. Wood's article about DOD spending on military pay, and benefits. You can find the content of his article here:

Dear Mr. Wood,

My name is Stephanie Monroe. I am an Army wife of 9 ½ years. I have been sending my husband off to war for over a decade. I currently live on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa Japan with my husband and 2 children. I would like to respond to an editorial you wrote where you claim that the U.S. government “lavished money on the nation’s 1.3 million active-duty troops and their Families”. I would like to address some of the statements that you made.

The men and women of our military are the hardest working 1% of our national population. Our military has been at war for over a decade and has done everything our nation has asked of them, many making the ultimate sacrifice. Only 1% of our population chooses to serve on Active Duty Status. I don’t see anyone else volunteering to lead this life. So to insinuate their salaries and benefits are undeservingly far above that of civilian counterparts is an ignorant statement.

Lets discuss base pay. The average enlisted soldier actually brings home far less than you have stated. An E-1 (Private) earns an annual base pay of $18,192 before taxes. An E-5 (Sergeant) earns an annual base pay of roughly $30,348 before taxes. An E-9 (Sergeant Major/Command Sergeant Major) earns an annual base pay of $64,284 before taxes. An O-1 (2nd Lieutenant) earns an annual base pay of $43,428 before taxes. An O-5 (Major) with 6 years of service earns an annual base pay of roughly $69,296 before taxes. The bonuses that you speak of are compensation for undergoing further and specialized training such as the grueling Ranger School, Officer Candidate School, or being proficient in certain skills. Not every service member chooses to do this. Nor is every service member capable of doing this.

Certainly as one climbs in the ranks, one’s base pay salary rises as well. We can equate this to a civilian entering a corporation or firm at entry level, or with a college degree, and as they receive promotions and climb up the corporate ladder, their salary increases. We do need to remember however, that most members of the service are enlisted. There are far fewer Sergeants Major and Captains in the ranks than there are Privates and Corporals. The majority of our fighting forces are comprised of junior enlisted personnel. Keep in mind what we’ve been asking our enlisted to do. They deploy for months at a time to dangerous locations. They work weekends, holidays, through injuries, illnesses, they watch their friends get maimed or die in combat. And they do it again, and again. Certainly that is deserving of the tax breaks afforded to deployed military personnel. As it would seem, you would prefer for military paychecks to remain the same even as the cost of housing, food, and other goods continue to rise.

If we include Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) the money that a service member makes annually goes up a substantial amount. However, it must be taken into consideration that our BAH rates depend upon two things, rank and location. If you are a service member who is living and doing your job in the New York City area your BAH is going to be markedly higher than a soldier serving at Ft. Benning, Georgia, or Ft. Polk Louisiana.

Let’s take Ft. Benning for example. An E-1 with a family is allotted $1230/month in BAH if they choose to live off post. An E-5 with a family is allotted $1305/month. An E-9 with a family is allotted 1725/month. An O-1 with a family is allotted $1311/month. An O-5 with a family is allotted $ 1923/month. It is with this housing stipend that most service members just want to provide a good house in a safe neighborhood that is near good schools for their family. Utilities and luxuries such as cable TV, Internet, and phone service are at the cost of the service member. I challenge you Mr. Wood to take the  $1305 allotted to “the average” service member and try to find a house that suits you, your wife, and your 2 children. (The average service member does have a family after all.) The house has to be in a safe neighborhood and a good school district.

Certainly the service member can choose to live in installation housing. But on base housing is something that most service members and their families have learned not to count on. Many times upon arrival to a new installation, the housing is full. So a family is put on a waiting list. The wait depends on the length of the list, and housing availability. A family could wait anywhere from a few weeks to several months for a house. The next issue with installation housing is age and condition. At many of the installations where my husband and I have lived, much of the housing has been old, degraded, and badly in need of renovations. New housing and renovations are underway at installations around the country and the world, but a lot of families are still living in aging homes many of which are beyond repair. Some of the issues that older housing units have include asbestos, lead paint, mold, cracks in the foundation, and vermin or insect infestations. My husband and I actually lived in a house on Ft. Benning that had been built in the 1930’s. We had to sign an asbestos waver acknowledging that there was asbestos contained in the ceiling of our residence. Our current home on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Japan had a recent radon reading of 5.3. The acceptable level is 4. Other homes on Kadena AB have problems with poisonous black mold permeating the dry wall, and cracks in the foundations that allow water to enter the home during the rainy season and typhoon season, the 2 seasons together make up 6 months out of the year. Perhaps some might consider it lavish to update, repair, and build new, safe living quarters for our service members and their families.

I would also like to mention that our children who attend school on military installations will be furloughed starting April 31st, every Friday for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends September 30th 2013. So military children will be receiving fewer education hours than their non-military peers. Is it lavish spending to provide our children with quality education?

Our civilian healthcare providers contracted through the DOD to work at installation hospitals and clinics will also be furloughed for some 22 working days, leaving military personnel and their families with less access to healthcare. This is healthcare that service members DO pay for, for their family members.

Perhaps I should consider it a luxury that when my husband got shot in the back in combat in 2005 his new body armor saved his life instead of leaving me a widow. Maybe it is extravagant that my husband’s Humvees, Bradleys, and other vital equipment have been well maintained and are in working order so he could safely and competently complete his missions while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps it’s over reaching to make certain that my husband and his men are the most well trained soldiers in the world so the next time they get into a firefight with enemy forces they all come home alive.

Mr. Wood, I invite you to come stay with my family in our small 3 bedroom on-base townhouse the next time my husband deploys. You will have to sleep on the couch however as our “lavish” accommodations do not allow for a guest area. You will be able to witness first hand the “luxurious” conditions under which we live while my husband is gone. I invite you to be present as my husband kisses his children goodbye, telling our 5 year old that he’s “the man of the house now” and my daughter cries like her heart is breaking because Daddy is leaving again. I invite you to watch as I hug my husband for what very well could be the last time. You can bear witness as I attend parent teacher conferences, sporting events, pay our taxes, deal with car and home repairs, pay bills, grocery shop, rush sick children to the ER, take care of our yard, clean the house, do the laundry, fill Easter baskets, or stuff stockings by myself. Again. You can be witness to the utter frustration felt when a phone call is missed. You will be able to be there when we get word of an injury or a death. You can watch the toll that 10+ years of this takes, as we all know it easily could have been “my soldier”. I will let you come up with an answer when my 5 year old asks, “are bad guys are going to kill my daddy”. You’ll get to see on the nights I cry myself to sleep because the day has been just a little too much and in addition to it I constantly carry the burden of worry and fear that my husband may not return. You can witness as I struggle some days to keep it all together while I try to raise balanced, mentally and emotionally healthy children alone. I suppose one could consider it lavish that service members and their families have access to mental healthcare as we attempt to deal with the rigors of deployment again, and again, and again, and again.

Perhaps, Mr. Wood, you should go visit military installations and see first hand some of the degraded housing you expect us to subject our children to. Would you live there? Maybe you should sit down for an hour or two and actually speak with the spouses and children of deployed service members. Actually listen to what they have to say about the lavish life you feel we’ve been afforded. Maybe you should take a tour of a Wounded Warriors unit and ask yourself what you might expect as compensation for your arms, or your legs, or your skin. Mr. Wood, I suggest that you research further the conditions under which the military community truly lives before you conclude what our service members and their families are worth, based on a poor interpretation of pay scales and housing charts.


I did receive a response from Mr. Wood this morning. Here is what he had to say.

Dear Ms. Monroe,
Thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful and well researched letter. Thank you and your husband and two children for your service as part of the less-than-1 percent of Americans who choose the military as a profession.
I don't take issue with anything you've said here. In 35 years of covering the military I've deployed many times, gotten to know military families, am familiar with military housing and living conditions. 
The fact is, though, and the point of the article was, that military life has improved vastly since the end of the draft and the introduction of the "all-volunteer force" in 1974. I have  never written that military life is easy or luxurious, but I have seen the improvements (not perfect!) in those things I mentioned -- salaries and benefits, housing, day care and so forth.
In my personal view that money has been well spent, enabling the very hard work of those in uniform (and the families behind them) and giving us the finest military the world has ever seen.
And yet, the furloughs from DoD schools are a chilling harbinger of things to come, from what I hear on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon. Harder times are coming and rising personnel costs are going to be a target. Of course the country knows and appreciates the sacrifices you have made in a decade of war. We needn't argue that point. The issue is, what now? That's the point I wanted to raise. Perhaps a smaller active-duty force is part of the answer; perhaps fewer big-ticket acquisition programs. I don't know. But we need to have the discussion.
And it sounds to me as if you'd like to be part of that discussion. One way (even if it takes holding your nose) is to post your letter as a comment on my story. Or you could write a blog post for us -- and I can help with that if you'd like. I have done that for other military spouses.. There are other places that would be grateful for your input. But your insights are important and should be heard.

I responded back with the following,

Dear Mr. Wood,
Thank you for such a prompt response. I disagree however that the point of your article was "that military life has improved vastly since the end of the draft and the introduction of the "all-volunteer force" in 1974." The initial title of your article was "After a Decade of Lavish Benefits Defense Personnel Fear Cuts" before it was changed to its current title. The intent of your article seemed much closer to attempting to prove how military pay and benefits are a huge part of our national spending problem. Indeed the DOD has greatly improved living conditions for service members and their families. But I think you forget there are still people who remember life before these improvements, and do not want to see the military go down that path again. The result would be, as a good friend and fellow military wife put it, a "mass exodus" of well trained and experienced military personnel in favor of less stressful civilian jobs, effectively gutting our fighting forces. While I certainly agree that spending cuts must be made in all sectors, I disagree that it should first and foremost be made on the backs of the military and their families. Especially while we still have people dying in Afghanistan. One can most decidedly see this is the case considering roughly 42% of the Sequestration cuts came out of the DOD's budget while sparing other programs. We all know what these other programs are and that they could do with major reform and spending cuts before attacking the well-being of our military community. 

Mr. Wood I encourage you to read a blog post by Tony Carr in response to your article. You can find the post here:

I will be more than happy to post my email to you as a response to your story. Thank you for your time and your response to my email.

Stephanie Monroe

March 3, 2013

Why You Should Care About Sequestration

One word. Money. For those of you who don't keep up with politics (you really should) a little something called sequestration kicked in a couple of days ago. Sequestration is the mandatory cutting of the government's budget across the board. Or so they say. But "across the board" really means very different things to them, and to us. "Across the board" means, to me, that they take a little bit from the budget of each and every program currently funded by the government. What "across the board" means to them, is sparing nearly no expense for the entitlement programs, and the majority of the Sequestration budget being cut directly from the military. Of the entitlement programs that will be affected WIC, and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program are included.

The 2013 sequestration cuts total 84.5 billion dollars. Here is the basic breakdown of where the money is being cut.
- $42.7 billion from the defense budget (thats us military people. ALL of us, families too)
- $28.7 billion in domestic discretionary spending
- $9.9 billion in Medicare
- $4 billion in other mandatory spending


I do not know or understand what these cuts mean for programs like Medicare, but I do know what it means for our military. In a thorough discussion with my husband there are places the military could make cuts. But right now all I know is this. Our DoD civilian employees are going to be furloughed. Most notably that means our teachers for our base schools, and our healthcare workers for our base hospitals. This includes overseas workers. This WILL start to take effect in April, giving our government yet another window of time to stop it by coming to an alternative agreement.

Let's make this just a bit more personal shall we? That means, my son, who attends an on-base elementary school, will be receiving LESS educational hours than his non-military peers due to the mandatory furlough of his teachers. It also means that me and my children will receive LESS access to quality healthcare, including longer waits for treatments, appointments, and procedures due to the furlough of our civilian healthcare staff. Now throw into the mix that I'm going to be having a baby.

I don't know about you, but I am angry. I am furious. This makes my blood boil. I am so angry that I don't even know what to do with myself!! I am stuck on this tiny island in the middle of the ocean when all I want to do is scream from the rooftops how ridiculous this is!! If I were home I could and would be doing more than writing a blog and some letters.

The sheer audacity of our government to cut necessary programs from our military and their families is twisted, and sick. Our military is the hardest working 1% of the population of our country and this is how they, and their families who sacrifice so much are rewarded for the last 12 years of war?

And so I ask, WHERE are the budget cuts from the welfare program? WHERE are the budget cuts from the food stamp program? WHERE are the budget cuts from the programs that fund people who sacrifice very little for their nation? WHERE?!?

If you're anything like me, you've thrown your hands into the air and feel utterly helpless. The people that have been elected to represent us have not done their jobs!! In fact, the Senate has not passed a budget in nearly 4 years despite the fact that they are legally required to do so!! However there is no penalty for not passing a budget! WHY?? Where are our leaders and why are they not doing what they've been entrusted to do?

Our government borrows 40 cents for every dollar they spend. Clearly cuts need to be made. By why, I ask, why is the majority of the money being taken away from a military that has spent over a decade at war? We still have people being killed in Afghanistan, and our government deems it necessary to cut from the military first? Why are we as a people not doing more to demand a solution to this? Have we become SO complacent that we just don't care?