Nation's Defenders Guard a Lifestyle

The Opinion-page article "Here's a Fat Candidate for the Line Item Veto," (Oct. 9) virtually ignores the very real quality of life issues involved for those of us who wear this nation's uniform.

I have been in the military for 15 years and have moved eight times. The system of military commissaries, PXs, and housing has been crucial to sustaining my family and our way of life, nomadic as it is.

At Fort Irwin, Calif. (in the middle of the Mojave Desert), the nearest civilian grocery store and housing is 50 minutes away. In Bad Hersfeld, Germany, the economy lacked the housing to accommodate American soldiers, and the rentals that existed were small and expensive. Noam Scheiber advocates raising salaries of service members to compensate for the lost benefits. Do the math. This would cost more than is saved. More likely, the author's call for "efficiency" would be met by reducing the standard of living of military families. No one ever promised riches from a career in service, but being a member of the Armed Forces should not be a call to a life of poverty. Our country relies on an all-volunteer military to defend its vital interests and these forces depend on quality men and women to answer the call of duty. The constant erosion of military benefits will have results, but not the ones that the author describes.

Maj. Peter R. Mansoor

Silver Spring, Md.

Though the author does not suggest elimination of benefits for military personnel - only the taxpayer subsidy - the result would be the same. Commissaries and exchanges are often required to operate in austere locations to provide service to deployed US citizens - locations guaranteed to generate a loss. No commercial venture has that profit-eating mandate.

All companies offer benefits to entice quality applicants; the military is no different. Company benefits are financed by consumers - most of whom do not gain those perks.

When the article addresses housing, it implies choice where it does not always exist. Some personnel are required to live on base.

Continued attacks on military service and invitations to reneg on promises of compensation cannot fail but to affect morale and retention. In the long term, the cost of attracting, training, and retaining quality personnel would far outstrip short-term savings. Citizens who choose to serve the country in uniform usually do not do so for the monetary benefits or perks. They serve because they wish to and because they feel they owe a debt to the nation - sometimes at the cost of their lives. Mr Scheiber ought to consider whether the nation owes a far larger debt in return.

Lt. Col. Kevin E. Curry

Fairfax, Va.

[This letter reflects the writer's personal opinion, not necessarily that of the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other government agency.]

Military housing has never been superior to that which I could have found on the market. Although housing personnel strive to provide excellent maintenance service and personable care, our homes have always been smaller and considerably more "used," due to the number of families who have, of necessity, moved in and out after short stays. My decision to live in military housing was based on two factors: (1) I was reminded by personnel managers that length of stay was not guaranteed. (2) My bride and five children have expressed a preference for the cameraderie within a military community, where neighbors instantly have a bond from the regular uprooting they have endured.

Maj. Kevin R. Riedler

Tomah, Wis.

US Army Reserve

Editor's Note: A number of readers wrote to point out the distinction between the Defense Commissary Agency and post exchanges (PXs). Because of an editing error, one sentence appeared to equate the two.

Your letters are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be mailed to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, faxed to 617-450-2317, or e-mailed to oped@csps.com

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