Food stamps at the commissary

NO one enlists in the armed forces to get rich. But members of the military do expect to enjoy a quality of life equal to that of the civilians they volunteer to defend.

That is why one of the most alarming statistics to surface recently is that nearly half of the enlisted men and women in the Army and Marines earn less than $20,000 a year, including housing and other allowances.

Many qualify for food stamps and are reluctantly using them at base commissaries as the gap between civilian and military wages continues to widen. The Marines are so embarrassed that they won't even talk about it to reporters.

The Clinton administration wanted to freeze military salaries this year and add a modest 1.6 percent boost next year. Congress instead approved a 2.2 percent increase this year and is looking at 2.6 percent for next year - still below the 3 percent inflation figure.

If we want to continue to enjoy the luxury of a volunteer army and ask young men and women to lay their lives on the line for us, we can't continue to offer them poverty wages.

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