Letter to the Editor

This is in regard to Milt Zall's column in the May 21 edition of Federal Computer Week, "Equal Raises for All." I am a retired Air Force officer and now a federal employee, and I would like to share some of my views on military pay vs. civilian pay.

I certainly can sympathize with those military personnel who are at the lower grade level. However, even that sympathy ends after a short period of time. Let me explain.

Being a retired military officer permits me the opportunity to stay at military bases and shop at base exchanges and commissaries. Recently my wife and I visited a base exchange and discovered that they are not what I remember them to be. I've been retired for only five years, so my memory doesn't have to reach back that far.

At this particular exchange, they were selling Waterford crystal lamps at $450 each, or you could buy custom-made suits for $700 apiece, or my wife could purchase a Coach ladies' handbag for $200. Or if you have a taste for wine, you could buy an $85 bottle at the Class VI store, along with caviar from the commissary.

Somehow I don't think this is what these facilities were meant to be providing. But if service members can afford these types of products, the pay can't be that bad. I don't know of many federal employees that can afford to pay for these items. What makes this an even more complex issue is the fact that not more than six blocks from the main gate is a Sam's Club and a Kmart selling similar products at a lower price.

If you ever get the opportunity to visit a military installation, you don't see many old cars anymore. There are more BMWs and Benzes at some installations than you will find in some small American cities.

Another factor that must be considered in the pay equation is that the military has pay and allowances. When the military gets a pay raise of 4.6 percent, it is strictly for pay, not allowance. Allowances are paid monthly and are to be used to pay the cost of renting or buying a house. A subsistence allowance is to cover the cost of food. In addition, some select career fields get additional professional pay.

The important point to remember is that allowances are nontaxable; only the pay portion of the salary is taxed. That means, for example, some ranks will receive upwards of a $1,000 per month for housing allowance and an additional $100 for subsistence. That's nearly $13,000 a year of nontaxable income. That will pay for a nice mortgage payment or rent in most areas of the country. I don't know of any federal employee who has a similar tax-exempt status.

I do not what to diminish the importance of a good military structure. I didn't spend 28 years of my life in the military if I didn't believe in it, but somehow things have gotten out of kilter with regard to pay parity.

Name withheld upon request


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