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Local Editorials

It definitely ain’t easy being green

Recently, Tom Cruise made a fool of himself (again) by suggesting his job as a Hollywood actor was just as difficult as that of a soldier serving in Afghanistan.

Let that one sink in for a moment.

I’m a veteran, a disabled veteran, of the U.S. Navy, and I have only the faintest idea what those young men and women have had to go through. And, really, until you’ve made the sacrifices they’ve made — some of them, repeatedly — you have no reasonable right to try to equate anything you do with anything they have done, or will do in the future.

Being a member of the U.S. military isn’t easy, even with today’s high technology.

It’s true that military pay has increased substantially, even after taking inflation into account. But, there is a lot of financial hardship that comes with being a full-time member of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.

A “buck private,” an E-1 in today’s military pay scale, takes home a little more than $1,500 a month in base pay. If he or she is married, the additional housing and commuted rations pay adds up to about $2,500.

In many cases, on-base housing isn’t available to the lowest ranks. So, they have to venture out into the surrounding community, where the property managers are all too eager to eat up those allowances in the name of “fair market value.”

For me personally, in the early 1990s, I was lucky to get through a month with more than $50 to my name. And, I had to take a second job — once I was able to do so after I got hurt — just to stay afloat.

It’s probably ironic that it took a career-ending injury to provide me and my family with the opportunity to survive. But, that was “the way it worked” in Orlando, Fla.

After I was injured in the military, I was assigned to the Navy’s equivalent of the Department of Human Services as the senior enlistedman at the Transition/Relocation Assistance Program office. One of our most important duties was to help military spouses find jobs to help support their families.

It wasn’t easy, either. Most of the jobs we could find were barely better than minimum wage. The waiting list to be considered for those jobs was nearly two months — and that was in a city where population growth was nearly 10 percent a year.

Domestic violence brought on by money woes was rampant. Drug and alcohol abuse brought on by depression over money troubles were frequent, as well.

After I left the T/RAP office, I was assigned as the officer-in-charge’s yeoman at the Counseling and Assistance Center. There, we handled all of the substance abuse intake counseling for the military in southern and central Florida.

Each intake session was scheduled to last 45 minutes, so we staggered the sessions one hour apart. We had four counselors going, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., each weekday.

Some of the stories were just plain heartbreaking.

For instance, there was the dependent mother-of-three who turned to “exotic dancing” to help pay the bills. That led to other activities in the “back room,” which in turn led to a methamphetamine addiction that destroyed the family.

That was just one of hundreds of similar stories I heard come through the CAAC’s door every month. Most of the time, our help only came after the civilian criminal justice system was already involved.

It was a tragedy wrapped in a disaster for many of these families.

Sure, you can say it was bad choices that got them there, and you would be entirely correct. But, once you sign on the line to do whatever your government assigns you to do, it’s not like you can suddenly say, “This is too much of a hardship, I quit.”

If you think, with all the “feel-good understanding” these days, that it’s getting better, think again. The amount of servicemembers on welfare has tripled in the five years.

In 2008, more than $31 million in SNAP (food stamps) was used in military commissaries. In 2011 that statistic grew to $88 million. This year, it’s more than $100 million.

Most of those are the lowest pay grades. Those are the ones who are often found on the front lines, doing the most dangerous jobs Uncle Sam has asked of our military.

For its part, the military instituted the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance, which is meant to get military members off of SNAP. But the program is not fully funded, and does not provide nearly enough to those who are on it. 

Meanwhile, for those who are still on SNAP, the program is facing dramatic cuts in the near future. Those cuts will no doubt impact the men and women serving our country — especially their families.

• • •

I’m really looking forward today to Gary Barrett’s speech at DMACC. I was the keynote speaker at the 2010 Veterans Day event in Clarinda, and spoke about the very same subject matter: veterans need to tell their stories.

I’ll be the first to tell you my military story is anything but interesting. I got way too early in my career to have accomplished anything worth writing about.

That’s just a fact.

But by serving, even for a short time, that meant one more guy could do something that was worth writing about. So, in that regard, my service to my country was important.

So was yours, if you’re a veteran of the military.

Since a short time after I arrived here, we’ve been working to tell the stories of as many veterans as possible. We will continue to tell those stories for as long as we have veterans willing to talk about their service.

As I’m sure Gary is going to explain today, every one of these stories is important. So, please, share them with us and your community, so they can be shared with future generations who might not otherwise learn about the sacrifices that are made every day to secure the freedoms they enjoy.

• • •

If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. if you’re reading it in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

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