Capt. Brad Hardy, U.S. Army
The desk next to me is vacant, the end result of the current
government shutdown. My counterpart, a government civilian, is
furloughed until further notice. This is the second time this year he has been
sent home without pay.
I wonder why him and not me. I am an active-duty servicemember. Congress
and the president have made a special allowance in the absence of a continuing
resolution so that I may be paid regularly. I absolutely feel fortunate and my
wife is breathing a little easier. And I'm sure that the spouses of those deployed
now have one fewer worry on their minds.
But again, what makes me special while my civilian colleague draws the
short stick? Where do we draw the line and force the military, as a piece of
the federal government team, to shoulder at least some of the shutdown burden?
The reason may be that the military, for a number of theories, is a
beatified, protected sect among American society. As such, not funding military
pay checks is bad politics. Few in Washington want to be considered as
anti-military, non-flag waving, unpatriotic, or overly inquisitive of how the
military conducts its business. In general terms, supporting the military, at
least financially, is the undeniable solution even if one finds the policy
objectives murky or the actual conduct of war unnecessary or ham-fisted. And
again, I'm not complaining about my continued compensation. Money is good. So
are groceries. But by holding our place in society to a higher order than those
who serve with commensurate dedication and vigor we may damage the very nature
of what American uniformed service means. Furlough equity should be considered
a part of professional military service.
We should dust off our copies of The Soldier and the State and consider
that familiar phrase "profession of arms." A professional military, which we
consider ourselves almost by dictum, must be under the objective control of
civilian authority. In the American system, we subordinate ourselves to the
civilian government in order to protect it (from us). However, by placing the
military's pay at a higher priority than that of our civilians, we degrade this
image of professionalism, selfless service, or any other tortured application
of the Army Values we evoke to self-separate from society. The military is
lionized and segregated as something monolithically special, elite, almost
mystical and deified. So long as any narrative fits this ideal, most objective
examinations to the contrary are rebuffed.
Consider the example of the WWII veteran "invasion" of their memorial
in Washington, D.C. These vets and their occupation of an otherwise closed
national park was largely applauded in the media despite being threatened with
arrest. I wouldn't besmirch these veterans, just as so many wouldn't either. For
many, their "Honor Flight" and trip to the capital may be the first and last
time to witness the amazing memorial constructed to honor them. However, this
act demonstrates, across generations and wars, just how high the pedestal the
military is placed on. An unlikely but possibly criminal act can be glossed
over as a stand against congressional gridlock and show of red-blooded
patriotism. It's a dangerous, slippery slope. Just as no one wants to see an
elderly man in a wheelchair blocked from his memorial or handcuffed, no one
wants to see today's troops go unpaid.
There may not be an easy solution and one may not be necessary if the
government is turned back on. But the pay caveat to the shutdown episode tells
me that the profession of arms may be a myth, while the warrior class is alive,
well, and paid off before others.
Brad Hardy is a U.S. Army strategist. The opinions expressed in the article are
solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the U.S. government, the
Department of Defense, or the U.S. Army.
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