Letter to the editor

Having worked both sides of the fence, and the third side—private industry — I would like to add a few remarks to the military vs. civilian pay issues [See "Pay Parity" letters to the editor]. As a basis for these comments, I have eight years of active service, including Vietnam and Desert Storm, 24 total military years (enlisted), 18 years as a civilian engineer and 1 1/2 years as a GS-12.

Note: I do not make any judgment as to which one deserves more pay. I also have my own opinions on the military pay structure as well as the GS pay scale for engineers outside of the issue under attack.

I would like to point out that the people who claim that the civilian side is more like a "real" job are correct. I put in my "9 to 5," I get paid or compensated for anything over my "40 a week." I find that many of the pros and cons of civil vs. private are somewhat balanced out at the GS-12 level. If I do not feel like going to work, I can call the boss and say, "Put me on <blank>, I am not coming in." Reading some of my sign-on paperwork, I also note that I can under certain circumstances be treated as if I were still on active

To address the military side of things, many people (including the military) do not realize that you get paid for a 24-hour day and a seven-day week, because most of the time we work an eight- to 10-hour day and a five-day week. The only real requirement is meal times and sleep time, assuming the mission allows it. To compensate for this, we have tax-free quarters, food, and at times a per diem, or area cost of living adjustments, hazard pay, sea pay and 30 days of paid leave a year for all ranks.

Overall, the military base pay (as of July 2001) does appear to fall behind its civilian counterpart, especially when you consider the male bovine droppings that the military has to put up with and the fact that civilian employees can say, "I have a better offer; I'm gone." But that is slightly compensated for by the non-tax benefits like housing and food, and the vacation. I used to consider medical care a benefit, but that has been castrated so badly that it is a joke.

There is one spot where the military is far superior to the civilian world, and that's the fact that if a soldier, sailor or airman can survive for 20 active-duty years with a fairly clean nose, he can retire with an immediate pension.

In base pay dollars (not counting basic allowance for quarters and commuted rations), the officer ranks make slightly less than the GS ranks (O3/14+ vs. GS 12-6). Add in the extra pay, and the O3 hits parity or better. The downside to military duty is being shot at, living in housing that the American Civil Liberties Union claims is not fit for housing the indigent, possible long hours, watch-standing, sea duty, etc. The civilian downside is paying for housing, food and medical costs.

As a final note, a WG1, Step 1 makes $17,326 a year in base pay, not counting insurance and union dues. An E3 (single) with less than two years makes $14,576 a year base, plus $3,808 a year for housing and about $2,757 a year for food and has "free" medical. I assume that the WG1 has had tech school that the E3 has gone through at the E1 and E2 levels. But just in case, a WG3, Step 2 makes $20,820 a year. The WG gets 12 1/2 days a year vacation and 10 days sick leave (I think), and the military gets 30 days (about 21 days equivalent) leave and unlimited sick days (in a restrictive manner).

In closing, you cannot just look at the base pay for deciding who gets the shaft and who gets the gold. There are many other items that must be looked at when you compare compensation. If you want to get rich, stay out of civil service or the military and become a politician.

Name withheld by request

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