Memorial Day is a time to pay tribute to those who have died for our country. We are all forever grateful to the men and women who died to protect our civil liberties. In honor of Memorial Day on Monday, try to do something to show your appreciation for both the deceased and living men and women of the military. Make a pledge to say “thank you” to an ROTC member in the fall, make a donation to a military charity or just say a prayer for those who are currently serving.

We private citizens, though, should not be alone in thinking about the sacrifices of so many young individuals. Just as President Barack Obama rightfully called upon University graduates to fulfill civil service, I call upon President Obama and the federal government to provide greater rewards to those performing the greatest civil service: risking their lives for our country.

The U.S. government should ponder the “compensating wage differential” of military service, which in economics means the relation between pay and the undesirable traits of a particular job. I cannot imagine the stress, hardship and physical wear-and-tear a fellow 19-year-old is undergoing right now in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere. As many 19-year-olds risk their lives and witness unthinkable horrors, the government should consider raising the wage and benefits for our military men and women.

According to GoArmy.com, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the compensation package for an average active duty serviceman is $99,000, of which only 40% is cash compensation. GoArmy.com also states that a Private First Class with less than two years of experience only makes around $20,000 in cash salary. The small cash payment and the estimated $99,000 of total benefits does not come close to providing fair pay for our troops. For a reference of comparison, the cash salary, excluding benefits, of a U.S. representative was $162,000 in 2005 according to senate.gov, and it has probably risen since.

The hours of military service alone, including many sleepless nights, justify higher pay than the current military salary. Taking into account the harsh living environment and risk of death, injury and psychological trauma and harsh living environment as factors that determine the wage of our servicemen, it’s clear that America’s servicemen should be making at least six digits in cash, plus many more non-cash benefits. It’s the government’s moral and economic obligation to provide greater benefits for a job description that must, according to GoArmy.com, “be prepared to serve our country whenever and wherever you are needed, combat-ready at all times, trained to counter any threat, anywhere.”

Moreover, by increasing benefits for our servicemen, the government would also increase the incentive to serve in the military. At a time when our servicemen are stretched across the globe and fighting in two wars, more citizens would heed Obama’s call and take up the most honorable civil service. Increasing the benefits for military men and women would also help to socioeconomically diversify the military by making service more appealing to upper middle class suburbanites. Further, with the cost of college rising, a high wage in the military would encourage high school graduates to pursue an honorable and necessary career. College graduates would also be attracted by a high wage in the military because it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a good job in the private sector.

With all these positive results, raising the benefits for servicemen sounds like a no-brainer. However, the money needed to raise these benefits must come from somewhere within our government. And in this tough economy, the government should avoid implementing new taxes and spending. But that doesn’t mean the government couldn’t reallocate funds within the Department of Defense budget to the benefits of our servicemen. According to the Project on Government Oversight, a non-partisan think tank, the Department of Defense budget drew out money from troop training and equipment upkeep to pay for “800 earmarks” and “10 unneeded C-17 aircrafts.” If the Department of Defense can take away money from troop training and equipment upkeep to fund earmarks, it can surely draw money out of earmarks and other wasteful spending to raise the compensation for our troops.

So in recognition of Memorial Day, I urge you to call or write your representative and ask him to lobby for greater benefits for our servicemen. As we mourn and commemorate those who paid the ultimate price for our country, we must make sure both we private citizens as well as the government provide the necessary support and benefits our servicemen so rightfully deserve.

Eric Stulberg can be reached at estul@umich.edu.

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