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The American Military Myth #2: Big and Ballin’

Posted on 23 December 2016

What most annoys me about “general military knowledge” amongst average Americans today, is the assumption that the U.S. military is huge and the country spends too much money on it.  Granted, there is wasteful spending within the military apparatus, and that needs to be fixed, but the defense allocation is only 20% (approximately) of the entire federal budget – as opposed to the more than 50% of the budget consumed by social entitlement programs.

This situation brings me to the second myth about the American military myth that I wanted to address.  B-52 in service over Afghanistan

The military is too big and its personnel are rollin’ in the dough.

Currently there are approximately 1,300,000 people on active duty and 811,000 people in the reserves and guard; and that's the level of the military staffing strength after 15 years of war with ongoing deployments occurring in multiple combat zones. After only 4 years of war in the 1940s the American military was 12,000,000 strong.

The American military is nearing its lowest personnel levels in 80 years, yet is more widely deployed and consistently tasked than ever before.  Approximately 1% of the American population is shouldering the military service responsibilities for a nation of 320,000,000+ people, and utilizing a mere 23% of the national budget to do so. 

A person might think that with 20% of the federal budget going to defense, the troops would certainly experience a standard of living that was “comfortable”, at worst, but that person would be wrong.

As of 2014, the median household income in America was approximately $50,000, while an American Soldier having just completed basic training was earning approximately $18,500. That means that the U.S. government was paying its entry level troops approximately 37% of the national median household income, at a monthly income rate that was just $550 above the poverty line.

Based on the 2014 data, American enlisted personnel need to have received 6 promotions and have served at least 14 years before they will achieve the national median household income.  That’s insane. US Defense Budget Allocation - Veterans Services - Korengal Industries

The American military ‘could’ be proportional in its size to the territory it is required to defend, the alliances it is required to honor, and needs of global emergency responses … but it’s not.  It’s understaffed, underequipped, and its personnel are underpaid.

Americans seem to misunderstand the nature of the U.S. military with respects to the country’s territory and population.  Sure, the American military is larger than the next eight (because that’s the number often used in this discussion) allies combined, but most of those nations are geographically capable of fitting within the borders of the U.S. land mass and have populations significantly less than the U.S.  American spending on its military easily surpasses that of its allies, but so does the American GDP.

Why do these American Military myths persist?

Why then, with these glaring facts, would the American public continue to believe the “big & Ballin’ myth” about the U.S. military?  Well, the problem with this particular myth is that it is perpetuated by the proficiency with which service members and Veterans take advantage of support the U.S. populace demonstrates for its troops.  Every 101st Airborne in IraqMemorial Day, 4th of July, and Veterans’ Day, yellow ribbon find its way onto trees and fence posts galore, parades march down the streets of our towns, and chain restaurants offer free meals to service members and Veterans. The military community, in return, isn’t shy about proclaiming its Veteran status, requesting a military discount at the local retailer, and happily waiting in line to receive a free steak dinner.

If the myth is going to be busted, and the misconception is going to changed, then the military community needs to start taking accountability for its actions and attitudes.  We, the military community at large, need to adjust our perspective and check our sense of entitlement.  We do a critical job, sure, but we are performing a duty that is a central feature of ‘our’ citizenship, nothing more.  We also need to remember that ‘citizenship’ is a fluid concept, the duties and responsibilities of which vary from personal opinion to personal opinion. We need to focus what little financial resources we have into worthwhile and fruitful ventures, not the latest sports car or video gaming system.  While we are busy attending to our own conduct, we also need to start holding the military bureaucracy accountability for its fraud, waste, and abuse.  We need to inform our commanders of how money can be saved and the budget can be better utilized, and then we need to help them draft the point-papers that will get forwarded to the oversight committees that manage the budgetary allocations.  We have the ability to correct this situation, we just need to act.

Service members and Veterans are smart, resourceful, experienced, and highly trained professionals who deserve a competitive wage, competent and informed supervisors and leaders, and the respect that coincides with their accomplishments.  This means, however, that service members and Veterans need to act like the professionals they are and bring the conduct of their service components into line.  But, hey, that’s just my two cents. 

As always, Thanks for reading along.  Stick around and participate in feedback discussions, thoughtful commentaries, and maybe even contribute to future posts by highlighting other myths and misconceptions pertaining to military service and our nation’s Veterans.

Until next time … keep your heads down, eyes up, and sights on target.

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1 comment

  • Ryan: December 23, 2016

    Editorial Note:

    National Defense and Veterans Benefits spending for the proposed 2016 federal budget was set at approximately 20%.

    The past few budgets have included spending packages for the aforementioned departments ranging anywhere from 20-26%, hence the mentioned 23%.

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