From one of my military correstpondents on the Federal shutdown and the military:
I’ve been trying to get my head around the idea that those of us in the military might not get paid next week. I don’t really care about myself, in as much as I’m a single soldier without dependents. I can eat in the DFAC, put my bills (and some beer) on a credit card, throw a temper tantrum and get on with my life. But I am lucky to be slightly above living paycheck to paycheck. I’m a moderately responsible E5 with a girlfriend who likes nice restaurants.
Privates and their new families, on the other hand, are often barely above water. Too much of the time, issues that you deal with as a leader in the military revolve around family issues or privates and their money. These are not people who can afford two weeks without pay. In the area just off post, there are a lot of people who make a living off families not being able to pay the bills, and they charge rates that would make the Mob blush.
That isn’t even getting into the soldiers who are deployed.
Ever had to try and resolve a bank overdraft charge on a satellite phone on a combat outpost with about a half day time difference? It’s not easy, and again, single soldiers aren’t the ones I’m worried about. A late truck payment sucks, but it isn’t the end of the world (whether they will get reimbursed for late fees by their employer or bank is another issue for another day).
Young families, already under strain from young children and spouses far away and in harm’s way, don’t need an excuse to break. They also, just like the rest of the military, often have trouble making ends meet (we actually typically counsel young soldiers to not give the spouse access to their bank account, if they want to save any money while deployed). There is a lot of financial irresponsibility in young families, to be sure, but they certainly don’t need any help screwing up from the federal government.
Contrast that with politicians. I can’t believe they are getting paid. When a Congressman makes $174,000/year I doubt many politicians really live paycheck to paycheck, and most of them probably don’t even have kids they support any more, judging by the gray hair all over CSPAN. This is our civilian ‘leadership?’
In the military, at chow time, there is one simple rule. Leaders eat last. Its simple, it makes sense, and it helps reinforce the basic truth of leadership in the military: you are there to help your subordinates complete the mission.
Colonels don’t win battles, privates humping machine guns do. There are a lot of perks to leadership in the military, including better pay and an easier life. But when it comes to doing the job, all anyone is doing is helping the lower enlisted point their guns in the correct direction and pull the trigger. They are carrying the weight, they are bounding under fire, they are walking through the low density minefields that our combat zones have become, or doing whatever it is the rest of the Army does to keep our vehicles and weapons up. On our COP, this rule was strictly enforced. We might have been a ‘dynamic’ group, and bent the rules as much as we could, but I still got my ass chewed any time I grabbed a plate before my guys, even if they didn’t want one. In situations like ours, where there sometimes wasn’t enough hot food to go around, that rule is especially inviolate.
Above the platoon level, it becomes even more clear. Officers in TOCs can wait until the guys covered with blood, dirt, and grease get theirs. The Marine Corps FOB I was on briefly in Helmand took it to a whole higher level, not even allowing real food in the FOB because the guys in the combat outposts to the south couldn’t have any. This is a basic principle of leadership, reinforcing humility at higher levels of command while making sure the guys that actually need it have enough food.
Leaders eat last. Its that simple. Our national politicians need to get the message. They aren’t the purpose of government, they are there to help make it work.
Operation Homefront is assisting soldiers and their families, and accepts donations at http://www.operationhomefront.net/donate.aspx – not a bad place to drop a $20.00.