A Needed Pay Hike

The us military is in a time of transformation - to use the term favored by analysts of the armed services. New technology is on the horizon, presaged by the kind of precision-guided munitions recently used in Iraq. New geopolitical configurations are taking shape, foreshadowing potential points of conflict.

In all this, the most basic requirement for transformation remains personnel that are up to the new task. And the basic means of meeting that requirement? Adequate pay and benefits to keep such people in an all-volunteer force. The competition is tough. The civilian economy eagerly snaps up people with technical and leadership skills honed by military service. More must be done to reduce disincentives to serve.

Defense Secretary William Cohen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are acutely aware of this need. President Clinton has recognized it in his new, expanded spending plans for the military. Substantial pay raises - 9.9 percent - have been recommended for mid-level officers and noncommissioned officers. Overall pay hikes would give soldiers and sailors at all ranks their biggest increases since the early Reagan era.

Ample ammo exists for debates about the Pentagon budget for example, which new weapons make sense in today's changing world and which are high-priced boondoggles? Clinton's plan to raise defense spending by $100 billion dollars over six years should heighten these debates. But there ought to be little debate that better salaries are needed to keep qualified men and women in the ranks.

Diplomacy and peacemaking are afoot, but so, regrettably, are blind nationalism and proliferating weaponry. American men and women in uniform do important work. A pay increase is merited.

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