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The $100K Staff Sergeant: Why Aren't Our Troops Paid More?


The president made the following remarks a few months ago during the time Gov. Scott Walker battled to regain control of the Wisconsin state budget:

“I don’t think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon,” Obama said. “We need to attract the best and the brightest to public service. These times demand it. We’re not going to attract the best teachers for our kids, for example, if they only make a fraction of what other professionals make.”

“We’re not going to convince the bravest Americans to put their lives on the line as police officers or firefighters, if we don’t properly reward that bravery,” he added.

Those are an interesting few sentences. And if the legislative and executive branches in Washington truly believe this then I have to ask the following question: Why aren’t U.S. Troops earning far higher salaries?

Some may argue that our Troops receive enough compensation–especially when one factors in benefits. But I’m not arguing about Troop pay in a vacuum; I’m arguing about it in light of the above remarks and in light of such things as USA Today reporting on the salaries of federal workers–some of whom receive $100,000 or more per year.

It’s possible to argue that some federal workers who earn $100,000 or more per year do so because of supply-and-demand. In other words, doctors, lawyers, and dentists have a particular set of skills that only a (relatively) small amount of people have, and therefore they can command more money. Meanwhile, the reason that other federal workers (including Servicemen) don’t earn that type of pay is because there is a much larger pool from which to fill those jobs. Yet there are two counterarguments I’d offer to that. (1) Do we really need all the doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc. in the federal government that we have? (2) Is the pool from which to fill Troop quotas as large as one might think it is?

Going back at least as early as 2005, the media has reported that the military struggles to meet recruiting and retention goals because many Servicemen and potential recruits are overweight. A 2009 article in the Army Times reported that a group called Mission: Readiness claimed that, “75 percent of the nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds are ineligible for service for a variety of reasons,” with obesity being a reason that many youths are unfit. Mission: Readiness also claimed that obesity was a major national problem in 2010. And Mission: Readiness continues its campaign today with press releases like, “Retired Generals Issue Warning: Childhood Obesity Endangers National Security” and “Military Service Out of Reach for Most Young Adults in Pittsburgh.”

So maybe the pool from which to find Troops isn’t that large after all.

I don’t necessarily agree with the continued campaign against so-called childhood obesity or the argument that we face a national security threat from it. Yet I do agree that there could be a dwindling supply of people eligible to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Furthermore, if our national leaders are going to suggest that attempts to reduce government spending amount to denigrating or vilifying public employees then I again see no reason why we shouldn’t pay U.S. Servicemen better. In fact, why shouldn’t I be the world’s first $100,000 staff sergeant?

Yet I know if ever someone suggested my idea seriously he’d immediately be laughed off and the idea deemed financially impossible. So I won’t actively pursue this (yet). Nevertheless, I’m not ready to let go of the issue entirely either. Instead, I’m willing to compromise. I’ll settle for never seeing the $100,000 staff sergeant in exchange for a reduction in the rest of the federal government.

The bottom line is this: the primary purpose of the federal government is national defense. And if it cannot afford to pay its enlisted (and most of its commissioned officers) salaries over $100,000, then there is no justification for the bloat that plagues the rest of the government. Furthermore, if we aren’t willing (or able) to pay high salaries to attract people to serve in our all-volunteer Armed Forces, then I cannot support any advocacy for the continued high salaries and benefits given to attract the best and brightest to any other part of so-called public service either.

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