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Last week, I wrote about how America has let our military personnel
down. This weekend, we celebrate the 4th of July, America’s birthday. To
remind you that the battle for freedom will never end, I want to share
with you the following letter from a soldier from Fort Hood, Texas. Fort
Hood, by the way, is the largest military base in the world.

Two weeks ago, the Navy admitted that it had spent $25 million to
renovate mansions of its admirals without congressional approval. The
Pentagon has a larger fleet of executive jets for the generals and
admirals than any corporation in the world. Remember these facts as you
read this grunt’s lament. Sadly, our grunt’s words are consistent with
what many retired and active duty troops, NCOs and officers have told me
since 1993.

The 4th of July is a time to celebrate America’s Declaration of
Independence. It is also a time to remember that men and women died to
make that Declaration a reality. Let’s honor their memory by doing right
by our troops.

“I am currently serving in the Army at Fort Hood, and I have less
than 30 days left on active duty. I enlisted four years ago after I
graduated from College with a Liberal Arts degree. Since then I have
seen no increase in rank and less than 200 dollars increase in pay for
the ‘cost of living’ increase, if that is what you can call it. So here
I am an E-4 who has some fairly high-tech training who makes minimum
wage, although in the civilian world for the same skills as I have in
telecommunications I would be earning over 50k yearly. That number is
exactly the kind of number companies like Sprint, Lucent, Bell, Nortel,
GTE and numerous lesser known telecom companies are putting on the table
right now as I prepare to exit the service and enter the civilian world.
I would like to know how in the hell the Army expects me to turn these
opportunities down? The truth is that I can’t.

“I have wife and a kid on the way, and I cannot depend on the Army
and its underfunded, undermanned, and exhausted medical system to take
care of my family. Their solution to what ails you is to take two
aspirins and don’t bother calling me ever again. Now, you suggested that
the V.A. system is chewed up, but another major problem is the system
set up for the active duty and their families. I have taken my wife in
for surgery and have been chastised for asking questions, scolded for
complaining, and disciplined afterwards. If I was a civilian, I would
slap them with a lawsuit, but instead I lose for being a concerned
patron. My wife is eight months pregnant and has yet to see an actual
doctor; we have seen a nurse and must trust her experience on pregnancy
issues instead of trusting a doctor for their technical expertise.

“On the matter of pay, well you just ask those Generals and Colonels
who fly first class wherever they go and have a multitude of staff
members, where the money went. Of course in the civilian world those
same individuals would make ten times their pay as well, but do they
need the perks? I’ve often wondered while on training missions, and
deployments when I was hungry, cold, and tired all because of lack of
personnel and funding, why is it that Generals and Colonels can ride
around in trucks that are better maintained, clean, and have an entire
convoy about them only to return to their warm cozy bed at home at
night. Well after some careful thought I came up with this, they do not
care about their soldiers, furthermore they only care about themselves
and their careers. In other words they will ask me to do things that
they would never dare do themselves.

“On the issue of funding and budgeting, never have I experienced such
a blatant disregard for the well being of people who serve an entity of
any type. I worked for a construction company who treated its immigrant
laborers better than they have treated me in the Army. I have been on
deployments and exercises where the unit could not afford fuel, parts,
ammo, or food to maintain our training to even the slightest combat
survivability. Our barracks are run down and in some cases could be
condemned. Some quarters have four people living in a two-man room,
sleeping on cots, and on the floor. New soldiers who come to the unit
that need quarters on-post may not even get a blanket to sleep on. While
those who live off-post must frequently deal with crooked landlords, who
charge them exactly what their monthly entitlement for housing is for a
shanty in the worst neighborhood in town. If you complain about
anything, they may evict you, and that landlord may call your commander
and demand that your next month’s pay be docked for rent because you did
not give proper notice. Of course, in this case the commander will
always comply, because he doesn’t want that landlord going over his head
and rocking the boat.

“I was recently talking to a platoon sergeant who is retiring because
of these sorts of things; he said, ‘When the Army can’t even afford
toilet paper in the field, it’s time to get the hell out.’ A trick the
mechanics use in the motor pool to hide deficient vehicles from the
commanders is they put them in the garage, but the problem with that is
there are so many now they can’t fit them all in there. Mechanics put
parts on order and then after the officers review the requisitions the
‘non essential’ or expensive parts are canceled out. Our M-60 machine
guns are so old and worn out that you can put parts in backwards and the
gun will still work. When people who want stay put in requests for
military schools, they are not only rejected but the paperwork
conveniently gets lost. Although I will say that any general’s office is
immaculate, embellished with ornate decorations and afforded a large
staff and budget to keep it that way.

“Equipment, equipment, equipment — where do I begin? I’ve touched on
our mobility and the lack thereof, but what about the down and dirty
hands-on infantry equipment. Well, it would not be out of place in the
Vietnam War. My uncle carried the same equipment on his back in Vietnam,
in this age of high tech we still carry the same rifle, the same alice
pack, the same of everything. Now, we have all seen the Discovery
Channel specials on high tech warfare, but I have yet to see any of that
employed. Which even if they did have that sort of equipment issued to
everyone, they wouldn’t get ammo, batteries to make the laser sights
work, or parts to fix it.

“Morale, there is none. I have never seen a group of people who were
so depressed that they would do anything to get out. Right now my
company has anywhere from two to five people in the psycho ward at any
one time. We have had in the past almost half the company on special
physical training for being overweight and failure to meet P.T.
standards. Recently we had a dozen people fail the urinalysis for
various sorts of drug abuse from marijuana to crack cocaine to LSD.
These people do not care about the Army and want out — and do not care
how, honorably or dishonorably, even AWOL. Our battalion had an
organizational day which is sort of like a company picnic, after the
opening speech was given by the commander just about everyone proceeded
to get in their cars and leave. Of course those senior enlisted and
officers who were concerned for their careers stayed and began their
routine flattery. When I began my enlistment, my first unit would hold
parties, have recreational days, all for morale. It worked; we performed
above and beyond the standards and unit cohesion was like crazy glue.
Not anymore, instead we work from dawn ’till dusk and receive no
recognition for any of it. Working like that is fine in the civilian
world because of overtime pay.

“Bureaucracy is no stranger of the Army and has been with it since
its inception, but in the high-tech world I don’t understand why we
still have to fill out everything in triplicate like the Romans did.
Xerox could make billions, although they would offer only a few million
in products and services. In any case, the new high-tech, streamlined
military that Reagan envisioned is still running things like Kelly’s

“Lastly, if any brass were to read this letter, they would instantly
deny any of it, and because they are officers and I am just a lower
enlisted dirt bag, they would easily pass it off as the rantings of a
soldier who was a failure in his service to his country. Well, why would
I write or say anything with less than 30 days out if I didn’t care
about this country and its defense. I joined the service based upon on
all the old-fashioned values that our fathers fought for, I did not
enlist to repay loans or for college money; in fact I turned it down. I
have given four years of selfless service without the raise in rank or
pay, and I have only received two awards since I have been in. I believe
I have paid enough dues to my country and to the selfish, greedy,
draft-dodging, cowards I work for. In essence I have been a slave in
exchange for the knowledge of whom my leaders really are and what they
stand for, themselves.”

It doesn’t have to be like this. Our economy is booming and we have
the money to do right by our people. It’s time to get rid of the
politicians who don’t understand how important it is to invest in our
fighting men and women. Next year, take our country back from the draft
dodgers who have run our military into the ground. Next year, only vote
for those candidates who can prove that they will treat our military
with respect and dignity.

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