A Soldier Speaks Out On The Shutdown – ‘Leaders Eat Last.’

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.

9 thoughts on “A Soldier Speaks Out On The Shutdown – ‘Leaders Eat Last.’”

  1. I couldn’t agree more, this is absolutely shameful conduct.

    Thank you for posting this, and much thanks to your correspondent.

  2. It may be old-fashioned, but I think Congress needs to share the pain. Whenever there is a proposal on the table concerning military pay (or in his case, the absence thereof) we should immediately freeze the pay and all assets of every member of Congress. They may be well-off enough to miss the occasional paycheck, although this time oddly enough they would continue to get paid even while PVT Snuffy wouldn’t. But I suspect if they knew they would be unable to write a check, make a charge, or even get cash from an ATM until military pay was resolved, there would never be any talk of interrupting military paydays. Ever.

  3. Freeze pay (and benefits), maybe. Freeze assets, definitely not.

    I can see that justice in the idea that people who aren’t performing don’t get paid but the income they already received from previous performance or other work shouldn’t be touchable (barring some legal action). Not unless you want to create an incentive for dipping into “hidden” assets or getting (more) money under the table. In which case then the budget battle may be determined by who can hold out the longest financially.

    I am curious though why this ire is directly at Congress rather than Congress and the President who is as much a player in budget negotiations as both Houses of Congress combined. If the thought of members of Congress getting paid while members of the military are not is offensive, the thought of the Commander in Chief getting paid after threatening to veto their pay and while trying to raise a billion dollars for his reelection campaign ought to be intolerable.

  4. I don’t know about Obama being as much a player as Congress in this. Apart from his bitchy threat to veto military pay, he’s done nothing. He spent a whole hour – a whole hour – playing sitzkrieg with Boehner, and lost.

    Normally, the budget is the centerpiece of a president’s domestic strategy. Obama’s total lack of interest in it shows how trivial he is.

  5. I think you guys are missing something- this may be bad politics but from Obama’s agenda point of view everything that has happened so is fine.

    The de facto plan of the leadership of the left has been to increase the size of government in such a way that massive tax increases (perhaps a VAT ultimately) are considered inevitable. This isn’t a bug, its a feature. What is Obama interested in? Redistribution, he’s said so himself. Is he a central planner? Yes, but thats dirty work and its not really the centerpiece of the agenda as it might seem. Redistribution is the goal, and this ‘reverse starve the monster’ strategy is the means.

    The one thing that Obama _can’t_ allow is a debate on if the spending works or is being used wisely. And we aren’t playing on that field- republicans have stupidly taken the bait and want to talk sheer dollars and cents instead of merit. They couldnt get it together to scoff at the idea that shutting down the national parks for days or weeks is a national disaster comparable to this debt nightmare- going after ethanol and ag subsidies or gutting all the paperpushers and diversity officers from the federal workforce seems like a pleasant pipe dream now. They are agreeing to run with the idea that we _have_ to starve school kids and grandma, instead of the idea that these bloated leviathan agencies do a terrible job of getting the needed help to them at all.

    House Republicans should break the budget out by agency and force every one of them to come up to capital hill and defend every line item. I say until every facebook designer and diversity officer is fire from the federal government, we aint talking tax hikes and thats that. That would be Obama’s nightmare, he doesn’t really care how the money is being spent so long as he can keep the spending going long enough to change the social contract via taxation to his liking.

  6. Meh… neither the Republicans (outside of Ryan and the Pauls) nor the Democrats seem at all serious.

    The fact that we were hours from a shutdown over cuts of $40B to a $3.8T budget (that’s roughly 1%) doesn’t bode well for getting anything done. Nor does the fact that even after those “cuts”, the remaining $3.7T budget contains hundreds of billions in additional spending that the FY 2010 budget ($3.45T) didn’t contain.

    At the end of the day, we’re still spending more, not less.

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