I’m challenging your Myth, Andrew Webb!

Dearest Butt Ugly Truth Readers: I was doing some research on services available for military members and their families that are in financial trouble. I wanted to write an article that would promote the community services available out there since the need is so strong in the military community. I came across an article written in 2001 by Andrew Webb of the Washington Monthly. After reading it, the entire content of this article changed! Before you read the Butt Ugly Truth about this concern of mine, here’s Mr. Webb’s article you may want to read first. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1316/is_4_33/ai_73828225/?tag=content;col1

And now I offer you – The Butt Ugly Truth – on military advancement, military housing, military “special pay” among other factors that contribute to the poverty of our enlisted service members and their families.

Mr. Webb, and to the others who share his thoughts, I ask you to consider this:  You serve for just one year….just ONE year in TODAY’s economy and in TODAY’s military conditions and you may decide to change your mind on enlisted pay and the poverty it puts our military community under. I realize your article was written in 2001, but you quote archaic articles, surveys and research from antique economic and social times. Your article goes all the way back to 1971 and your surveys and research go back even further. If you served one year, now, on today’s economy, would you still agree to working 16-18 hour days for weeks at a time on a constant swing shift with no overtime paid to you? Would you live aboard a ship sleeping in a bed no larger than a coffin and repair a flooding engine room even though your specialty is in the medical field? Again…that’s part of military committment – no extra pay for that. Would you still stand watches to make sure your sleeping brethren are safe at sea or in a camp. No extra pay for that. Not even a great meal unless you like the miniature tabasco that comes in your MRE. Or how about rescuing your best friend out of the black ocean on a starless night because the ship took an unexpected roll? And no, they weren’t fishing! They were trying to get from their compartment (not to be confused with an APARTment) in order to put out the fire in the boiler room. No extra pay – just part of the job. ALL military members are required to train for search & rescue, fire fighting, emergency collision repair, first aid/CPR, emergency egress, and any other emergencies that could possibly happen deployed or not. A sailor who paints the ship gets the same base pay as the sailor who constructs complicated circuits in order to communicate with other vessels and shore based commands. These are two totally different skill sets and have totally different education requirements – but if they are both the same pay grade – they get the same base pay. They would be paid very differently in the civilian sector.

I have more of the butt ugly truth for you regarding enlisted military housing! Your article makes it sound like a waste of money for the government to modernize their living quarters. I get the impression that you consider military housing for enlisted people to be adequate. When housing provided for military families consists of vermin-infested, asbestos laden, floors-falling-in, lead based paint from top to bottom conditions, I think that the government budget would be better spent on improving those living conditions rather than treating the overwhelming swarm of debilitating diseases and conditions these run down flats create. Have you ever spoken to a family who have children with lead-poisoning from the paint on the inside of their homes?You also failed to mention that you can be on a waiting list for several years (up to 5!) for the newer, renovated housing units. Even the units that aren’t renovated or modernized have a waiting list. By the time a member’s family gets close to the top of the waiting lists, it’s time for them to move again.

Your article says that military members don’t pay for government housing. Today that is a false statement. All service members are given a housing allowance. You either get allowance for a single military person, or you get an allowance for a military member with dependents. It no longer matters how many dependents you have, the allowance does not increase with added family members. Now, civilians might think that this is an outstanding benefit and may ask why the allowance is given? Base pay would nowhere near cover rent, utilities and food at the same time even if the service member is single. The monthly base salary for an E6 with 6 years of service (this makes him about 24 if he entered at 18) is $2801.00. If the military didn’t give him a housing allowance do you think he would be able to live in a decent apartment off base?  Members who live in government housing are given a housing allowance. Government housing has been privatized and is now even offered to Section 8 civilians with rent being based on their income. So part of your lease states that you agree to pay your entire allowance to them regardless of the condition of your home or where it’s located. The entire amount is garnished each month. It’s true that the housing allowance is based on your pay grade. My personal experience was that my husband as an E6 with 19 years of service, 2 tours in the Gulf, medals galore, was given a choice of two ranchers that were the same, just a little different floor plan. Both were about 1100sqft, four bedrooms, two full baths. One of my husband’s coworkers was an E5 with a newly built townhouse at double the square footage with only about 10 years in and we paid more per month due to being a higher pay grade.  They had central air, new carpeting, freshly caulked bathrooms, etc. Our little hovel had indoor-outdoor carpet, no air conditioning, baseboard heat where only half of them worked and a stove that would overheat by 100 degrees. Sub Standard. Because it is so hard to get promoted to the next pay grade, the family is getting older, they need more things, groceries with teenagers are expensive and thus begins the cycle of poverty. If a service member chooses to keep his housing allowance and live off-base/out of the government housing, the allowance is so low that they are forced to choose dangerous areas and neighborhoods. These are the people who fight for our freedom and they are living in drug ridden areas riddled with gang violence and a never-changing vortex of depravity.

Speaking of base pay not covering living expenses, military members arent put on food stamps because they choose to be. It’s because they live at the poverty line and they qualify for those programs. An E5 with a stay at home spouse and 2 children will qualify for food stamps. The stay-at-home spouse is unable to work because of the high cost, low quality of childcare that ‘s available, which is why the spouse is better off staying at home.

The “special pay” some members receive is mostly due to serving in combat zones for an undetermined amount of time. The government agreed that since they are throwing their troops into a place where it’s pretty likely they might die, they should give you a temporary raise. Once that duty has come to an end….so does the special pay. The military is serving us, Americans. They also serve many other democracies around the world! So maybe tax-free shopping on base and overseas is ok. They do pay state and federal income taxes. Military members are also required by MILITARY LAW to be clean-cut. It’s a good thing that the exchange has a barber shop. Sailors need haircuts at least every two weeks. Even at the Hair Cuttery that can become a hefty bill! Military members are also required to be in top physical condition. This explains the needs for the fitness centers and pools. You can thank that specially trained EOD diver that just disabled the explosives below the waterline for that, my friend. Whether on soil, sand, water or under cover, our military members willingly agree, by contract, to take care of YOUR freedoms. They deserve to be able to take care of their families and financial responsibilities as well. Oh, and stop hanging out at the exchange during Christmas time, that’s the only time you’ll see people coming out with high-priced items. And those cars you’re seeing…..mostly single military members either living on base in a barracks room they share with other people or on a ship where they have NO living conditions or privacy. They should have ONE nice thing for themselves.

Let’s discuss the 30 days paid leave a year that service members receive. I particularly love this topic because people who don’t receive this, think it’s such a wonderful perk! Look at it from this point of view: There are few civilian jobs that take you away from your home and family 8 out of 12 months a year. It is absolutely necessary to give our military forces time to be home, relax, recharge, and refocus. Civilian jobs have a built-in job description. They are not expected nor are they asked to work outside of that description. If a civilian does work outside of their job description, they receive “rewards” from incentive programs to do so. (Those hold monetary values!) Those rewards can consist of paid time off, gift cards to retailers or restaurants, bonus pay, a high-end “prize” or the like. A military member is expected to do any and all jobs laid in front of him or her. Whether it be polishing the bell or navigating the ship when the navigator has a heart attack. No extra pay there, just the honor. Honor is really wonderful, but it doesn’t pay the bills nor does it feed your family. Human beings are naturally a nesting species. If you don’t take care of our troops emotionally and spiritually, you cannot expect them to be able to do the dangerously demanding jobs they must do. The 30 days of paid leave is in lieu of office parties and incentive programs.

You speak of military advancements and how a junior sailor can expect the big bucks in no time at all. Yet you failed to mention that there are actually only a small amount of people the DoD can promote to the next pay grade. Through my time affiliated with the Armed Services, every last day of my 39 years, there are only 8%-10% of troops each exam cycle that the military allows for advancement. For example, say there are only 100 E4’s in the Navy. (I served in the Navy – therefore I take a sailor’s standpoint) Out of those 100 E4’s, only 8-10 of them will be advanced to the next pay grade because there are only that many number of jobs available in the next pay grade up. So the E4 spends months studying books upon books of their rate specialty knowing that only 8-10% will be promoted. These promotions are not based on their job performance (though annual evaluations are taken into consideration after testing), not based on their current duty assignment, not based on their attendance and who the best person for the job may be. They are promoted based on test results on your entire specialty as a whole. So if you are say, an Electronics Technician. You are testing against ALL ET’s. Now ET’s have many sub-specialties that include radar, sonar, sub repair, surface repair, computers, peripheral equipment and anything electronic both shipside and shoreside. The submariner ET will take different specialty courses than a surface ET simply because of the specialized equipment that they need to work on. In comparison, that would be like a surgeon taking a test based on not only surgery, but on family practice, orthopedics, internal medicine, etc. in order to compete for only 8-10 positions in the entire medical community. E4’s are junior enlisted. When you are an E6 ready to promote to E7 you are considered mid management. Attempting to get promoted to E7 is even tougher. The first step is taking that rating exam. God forbid that an outstanding service member has a migraine or other distraction on test day. If your score in the top, say 10%, you then have to compile and submit a package of your entire career history and present it to the selection board for review. The board then selects the top , again say 10% (guestimate in the dark there) who will sit before them for a rigorous interview. Once the interview is complete, it takes about 6 months to find out if you made the cut and were included in the 5%-7% that actually got promoted. and then the financial benefits of being promoted don’t kick in until up to a year after promotion based on your rankings with the board. Lord I hope they like you! The percentages of advancement further slim the higher you go. It’s not as black and white as the statistics you’ve woven through your article. For some additional clarification on how hard it is to get promoted in the Navy alone, junior enlisted (E1 through E6) tests are administered twice a year, senior enlisted (E7 and above) are administered once a year. One bad test score disqualifies all of  a service member’s brass-like qualities. (for the civilians reading, to call someone Brass means they are Officer/Leadership material. Not all officers in the military are truly brass worthy.)

The annual cost of living pay raise the military receives at the beginning of each calendar year mirrors what most of corporate america gives – generally 2%. So your claim that we look forward to annual pay raises doesn’t really hold water. There are no other pay raises available unless you have served the amount of time in your current pay grade… and then let the games begin for advancement! It takes almost a year to see the financial benefit of advancement!  What would corporate america be like if promotions were structured that way? If my military boss sees that I am doing a great job, he/she can’t give me any incentive program reward or a gift of appreciation for going above and beyond like they can in the corporate world. Those incentives, bonuses, and gifts aren’t factored into civilian pay unless it’s above a certain amount of money. And then, it’s only for tax purposes.

It’s absolutely necessary to provide the military with health and life insurance. Every day military members put their lives on the line whether they are in combat or not! They handle artillery, climb to high places, clean electronic equipment, not to mention the disasters waiting to happen just WALKING on a naval ship! Have you ever seen someone performing maintenance which ends up in a fatal fall or electrical shock? Yes, if we get hurt or sick, we would really like to get well again. Military members do contribute to life insurance and medical. We have a monthly cost that comes out of our pay, we then also have deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket health care costs as does every HMO/PPO out there. We pay for our prescriptions too. Unless you get them at a Military Treatment Facility and then the odds that they have what your doctor prescribed are slim to none (unless it’s ibuprofen-they love that)  The only time we don’t pay out-of-pocket is when we are seen at a Military Treatment Facility. Nine times out of ten, these facilities will employ civilian health care providers who are most times coming from infirmaries of prisons and the like. In my experience, there have been very few GOOD doctors/nurse practitioners at our facilities. For example, my daughter was born with asthma. When she was 5 months old she had pneumonia. It took them 3 weeks to determine that.  She spent 3 days in the hospital. Not because of her pneumonia, but because 10 days after her pneumonia, I took her in for her follow-up and they had contaminated her original blood tests. This led to a misdiagnosis of spinal meningitis.  She spent 3 days in a hospital at 5 months old because they didn’t betadine her hand completely upon blood withdrawal. During that time, they wouldn’t allow her to have a home nebulizer. We would have to go to the ER 20 miles away every two-four hours for a breathing treatment. As soon as I enrolled in the PPO military insurance, my deductible came into play but the civilian doctor treating her immediately handed me a home nebulizer from her supply and ran a battery of other tests for possible allergies and triggers. Substandard care.

Mr. Webb, your article consisted of a bundle of well researched and proven facts. However, there is a human factor here that you have not explored or researched. You can’t take cold facts and throw them into the air hoping it will negate the poverty that our military is still experiencing. Have you taken the time to actually speak to enlisted service members and their families about how hard it is to get promoted in today’s military? Even the most prepared, educated, upstanding E4 could easily get passed over for a promotion year after year keeping his growing family at a poverty level. The Coast Guard – while being a dangerous job and respectable in its own right – is under title 14 of us code “at all times an armed force of the United States” the CG is organizationally under the dept of transportation and in time of war or by presidents decree reported to the US Navy providing services to the department of defense. However, the Coast Guard did get transferred to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. The Butt Ugly Truth about that is that there are still only 4 branches of military service in the department of defense. An officer’s quality of life is substantially better than that of the enlisted’s. Statistics are nice and bright and shiny but the real picture is the human picture. You missed the human picture completely. THAT – is the butt ugly truth!


3 thoughts on “I’m challenging your Myth, Andrew Webb!

  1. Crystal, I have been on both sides of the military, enlisted and officer. I myself am a veteran. I agree with many points of your article but, want to point out that the military is not any better for officers.

    Take for instance my husband, he served six years active duty as a diver. Got out of the military to attend college then later decided to go to medical school. He had gotten the GI Bill while in the Navy which helped for a year or so of his bachelor degree. No where near paid for everything. He received a full scholarship for one year of tuition based on academic performance, selected by professors of the college. My husband was at the top of his class, had a 4.0 through college then was in the top 2-3% of his medical school’s graduating class. Attended a civilian residency then decided to go back on active duty. After his return to active duty he was selected to do a second residency, thus making him dual board certified in two specialties. He accumulated $130,000.00 worth of student debt while in college. We did not live extravagantly during that time. We budgeted and took out the bare minimum of loans to cover tuition and additional requirements.
    The military does not pay back any of those loans for us. There are some tuition assistance programs available. None of which we qualified for. The way promotion works for the medical community is all military doctors who attended the naval academy and the navy medical school are promoted first. The same as the enlisted person, only a small percentage of people are promoted. Now, my husband who did not attend the naval academy or military medical school has a hard time getting promoted, even though he is way more qualified and squared away than some of the other members of the medical community. He always gets an “outstanding” on his PRT and inspections. His level of evaluations are ranked, meaning there is only one person allowed to have a 4.0 in each department. So basically it’s the Ricky Bobby attitude “If you’re not first, your last.” LOL
    Basically, he will not advance any faster than an enlisted person because he is not a naval academy/med school graduate.

    We do make more money as an officer but, we also have more expenses (ie; medical license fees, board certification exam fees, continuing medical education expenses, student loans,etc.). I think in general all military members are under paid. My husband works countless hours is on call way more than he ever was as a civilian and on top of that has to do administrative and maintenance work. His equipment is forever crashing and needing repair during the wee hours or the AM or on weekends. His department is understaffed. As far as service and medications you can thank the government and TRICARE for that. Military doctors can only prescribe what’s on the formulary which is provided by TRICARE and contracted by our employer, the government.

    I could go on and on, the point I am trying to make is it isn’t any different for officers. The civilian DR in my husband’s office make triple what my husband does, for less responsibility and shorter hours. It is the military system in general.

    Hope this made sense and not to much of a run on.


  2. Crystal,
    Thank you so much for writing this. Your thoughts on the medical system really rang true for my family as well. When my son (Andrew) was 11 months old we started 6 months of medical hell.

    It started when he fell right before he was 11 months and he had been walking for about 2 weeks. He fell and stopped walking, I knew something was wrong. I took him to the ER (on Ft. Belvoir) and they wouldn’t even x-ray his leg b/c he would stand on it and there was no bruising, no swelling or redness. They sent us home directly from triage, I never even saw a doctor. A week later he still wasn’t walking so I took him back to the doctor where they RELUCTANTLY did an x-ray. They told me to go home and they would call me if anything showed up. AS SOON as I got home they called me to come back and go to ortho as he had fractured his leg. I find it unacceptable that my son had to go through a week of a fractured leg before someone would listen to us.

    2 months later Andrew gets very sick. It started with him having a fever of 104.8 and a very fast heart beat where they ER took him immediately to the back. Once there the doctor told us he just had a cold and he would get better, give him Motrin and Tylenol and follow up with his PCM in the morning. I do so and once again assured by his PCM that he will get better. I took him back again the next day as the fever was not breaking and he was screaming all the time, not eating or drinking. Once again I was told the same thing. After a few days of this he stops walking and standing completely and is sleeping ALL the time. I take him back to the doctor again to be told he is just fighting the virus, he will get better. I took him to the doctor 5 times in 6 days. On the 7th day we take him back to the ER b/c his knee was as big as a melon. They immediately ran an x-ray and saw he had a massive infection in it. We were transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where they did emergency surgery to clean out the infection. His white blood cell count in the fluid around his knee was 119,000, the norm is 10,000. Andrew spend 5 days in the hospital on 4 different IV antibiotics and then was on oral antibiotics for a month afterwards. All of this for a “virus” that would go away on its on.

    3 months after that incident Andrew gets sick AGAIN. I take him to the ER again where they see he recently had this big infection so they actually take us half way seriously. They see his white blood cell count is very elevated but they can not find the source of the problem. The doctor (Dr. Horn) sends us home and tells me to make an appointment with them the next afternoon. I take Andrew home and and next morning I find that at the top of his butt crack they is oozing puss and blood. I immediately call the pediatricians office and make my appointment for first thing when they open. When Dr. Horn comes in the first thing he says is I thought I told you to come in the afternoon. I told him that I found the infection and show him. He takes a sample of the puss and sends me to the surgical floor. Luckily Ft. Belvoir had just received a wonderful pediatric surgeon LTC Brisson who took us seriously and actually tried to tie all of Andrew’s problems together. He lets us know that the infection this time is actually MRSA (which can be lethal) and schedules surgery for the following morning. After the surgery to remove the infection they go to remove the breathing tube and his lung collapses. Not a huge deal, but it could have been avoided has action been taken when I originally took him to the ER.

    Shortly after all of this we decided to move out of our apartment on base to an off base condo. Andrew was never sick again after we moved from those quarters. I truly believe that there was something in that apartment making him so sick. The quality of care we received that was completely sub standard and therefore led to my son having to have 2 unnecessary surgeries at a young age. After moving out I realized it had to be the run down housing that was causing all of these problems. Had the housing we were in have been renovated my son could possible have avoided this entire ordeal.

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