Ingrates in Uniform
That should be the title of the latest blog entry from William Arkin of the Washington Post, who writes on national and homeland security matters for the paper. Mr. Arkin is apparently upset over a piece that aired last Friday, on NBC Nightly News. In that segment, reporter Richard Engel interviewed U.S. soldiers currently serving in Iraq. To a man, they expressed frustration over war critics who "support the troops" while denouncing the military campaign they are attempting to execute. A young enlisted man, 21-year-old Tyler Johnson, summed it up well, telling Mr. Engel:
"You may support or say we support the troops, but, so you're not supporting what they do, what they're here sweating for, what we bleed for, what we die for. It just don't make sense to me," Johnson said.
Apparently, such sentiments are a bit too much for Mr. Arkin. He believes the troops should be happy that the public still supports them.
These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President's handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.
Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.
If your blood's not boiling yet, it will be. After insulting every man and woman who has served honorably in Iraq--99.999999% of the total--Arkin accuses them of being ingrates, given the swell deal they get from Uncle Sam.
"So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?"
But Arkin still had one last salvo for those who serve:
But it is the United States and instead this NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.
According to his biography, Mr. Arkin served one tour in the post-Vietnam Army, from 1974-1978. A few years ago, after Arkin launched an offensive against a senior intelligence officer who openly espoused his Christian faith, Hugh Hewitt did a little digging on the national security analyst. Seems that most of his recent "experience" in national security matters has been with organizations like Greenpeace and Human Rights Watch, so his anti-military tone should come as no surprise.
Where to begin? Let's start with the low-hanging fruit, the "decent wages" assertion. Pick up a copy of the military Times' annual survey of military and civilian compensation. At every rank --from buck private, to four-star general, military personnel typically earn less than their civilian counterparts. More than 10,000 of our youngest troops, married with young children, are eligible for food stamps. And, of course, when they're not counting their riches or looking for tax shelters, those who wear uniform still have to put up with the other "distractions" of a mercenary career, namely months away from home (in such garden spots as Iraq and Afghanistan), and the possibility that you may be killed or maimed by the enemy.
But hey, when you return from your third or fourth rotation to the Middle East, you can kick back in your comfortable base quarters and relax, right? Military housing has come a long way over the past 20 years, but for mid-level NCOs and company-grade officers, it's still no better than an entry-level house or condo. Yeah, there's no charge for rent or utilities, but accepting base housing also means that you don't draw your housing allowance or locality "adjustment," so your paycheck isn't as big as it could be.
Making matters worse, many of our military installations are located in high-cost-of-living areas, and junior enlisted members--the same ones getting food stamps--have to wait months for base housing. In the interim, young wives often live paycheck-to-paycheck, caring for small children while their husbands are away. As Mrs. Spook would attest (along with thousands of current and former military spouses), it's a very tough life, but one they accepted in support of their husband's or wife's military career. But until Mr. Arkin came along, most didn't realize they were living the life of luxury.
Free medical care? The operative word here is "free." Get on the phone 30 minutes before the base primary care clinic opens, and hope you get an appointment. If you're lucky, you'll get to see a provider that day. Your other option (as a military member) is to show up for sick call, then spend most of your morning or afternoon waiting to be seen. In many cases you won't see a doctor (the military prefers physicians' assistants and nurse practitioners--they're cheaper). Referral to a specialist means a trip off-base (and money out of your pocket), or a drive to another military installation, often hours away. And don't expect to find all of the latest medications at your base pharmacy. Years ago, one of my kids took Acutane for acne; it was too pricey for the installation's pharmacy, so I paid for it myself, and waited two months for the Air Force to reimburse me. Ah, the good old days.
Those "vast support social support systems?" Many are manned by volunteers, or handled by the units themselves. I've known more than a few commanders' spouses who run the support network for the unit, helping families during deployments. They don't wear the uniform, or earn a dime from the government, but they make themselves available to help a young soldier's wife get her car fixed, or help another military spouse through a family crisis.
Life in the military is far from idyllic--and most of us understand that when we raise our right hand and take that enlistment oath. But we also understand that ours is a calling, not a job, and we're willing (if necessary) to put our lives on the line, in support of our comrades, and in defense of ideals that we hold dear. Military members are not "above" our society; they are a product of that society. While those who serve understand that Mr. Arkin has a right to his opinion (however repugnant it may be), they also appreciate the irony illustrated by his feckless opinion piece. Our best and brightest in uniform--like Specialist Johnson in Iraq--are fighting not only to promote liberty and freedom in a voliatle region, they are also fighting to defend fools like William Arkin, a man who is unworthy of their sacrifice.
More thoughts on Mr. Arkin from Powerline, Michelle Malkin (who has a great shot of the "creature comforts" enjoyed by our Marines on patrol); Ed Morrissey and my personal favorite, Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive.