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Christmas in camouflage: the wages of ‘freedom’

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Armies run on their stomachs – and American taxpayers are feeling a gut ache this holiday.

Despite patriotic genuflecting to “sacrifices” made by U.S. soldiers, sailors and aviators, make no mistake: They are handsomely compensated for their work. And no one held a gun to their head to do it.

Civilians in the private sector know what it takes to eke out a paycheck these days – and how wages are ravaged by inflation not fully reflected in the consumer-price index. The official jobless rate is also understated, as millions have vanished from the labor pool.

Our million-plus military personnel are shielded from such economic inconveniences.

Take an entry-level Army private (E-1), for example. On top of a base salary of $18,192, this private receives $24,408 annually in Basic Allowance for Housing, plus $4,224 for Basic Allowance for Sustenance. These latter two disbursements are tax-free.

Total it up and this single private gets $46,824 in cash compensation. Not bad for an individual who doesn’t need to have a job skill upon entering the service.

But, wait, there’s more. All servicemen and their families receive free medical care, paid-up retirement benefits, commissary and post/base exchange discounts, and 30 days of paid vacation.

When a service member moves, family belongings are packed and shipped free of charge. If a vehicle needs to be stored, Uncle Sam takes care of that, too.

Remember, these are all entry-level benefits, provided by all services branches. Rise in rank, and the paychecks swell.

A technical sergeant (E-6) receives total cash compensation of roughly $71,592 -- $39,600 of which is tax-free. An Army captain with six years and no dependents averages $93,800 a year, according to the Washington Times.

None of this is meant to suggest that armed-services personnel don’t put their lives in harm’s way. Many do, because America plays the world’s cop on a scale that would make the British Empire blush. Some 160 U.S. military installations have to be staffed, or so we’re told.

Under the banner of “spreading democracy,” Washington’s leaders – liberal and neocon alike -- proclaim that sacrifices must be made in blood and treasure, as civilian freedoms steadily erode at home.

Reinstitute a compulsory draft, and see how quickly America’s global mission shrinks.

Indeed, the modern-day professional soldier (with a 20-year commitment to receive full retirement benefits and health care for life) is a long slog from the Framers’ vision of citizen-soldiers serving a maximum of two years in the nation’s defense.

Proponents of the mercenary model argue that the complexities of 21-century warfare and weaponry demand greater continuity and more intense training.

Granted, but today’s military budgets are so bloated that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has, gently, suggested trimming sails. Let’s hope he isn’t just talking about returning $300 toilet seats.

“We all know that we need to slow cost growth in military compensation,” Hagel told a Pentagon press conference last week. “Tough decisions will have to be made.”

Hagel’s “tough” talk addressed only military pensions – not compensation -- and in very un-Pattonesque fashion, he was responding to grumbling about incremental reductions in annual pension increases for retirees under age 62.

Once again, Washington bureaucrats mischaracterize a slowdown in increased payouts as a “reduction.” Congress undoubtedly will restore whatever it “cut.”

It’s time to demolish the mythology of career soldiers subsisting in poverty. Let’s start by restoring a proper sense of fiscal order and duty.

Our armed legions – along with their civilian counterparts in “public service” -- enjoy paychecks and privileges that 99 percent of private-sector workers can only dream of.

Benighted taxpayers would do well to remember the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. At that time, 13,000 federal troops marched into Pennsylvania to collect taxes at gunpoint.

"This is how King George III collected stamp taxes and other levies from American colonists prior to the Revolution,” writes historian Thomas DiLorenzo in “Hamilton’s Curse.”

It’s done much more subtly today, but no less effectively.

Merry Christmas!



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