Sentinel Commentary

I am a federal employee and I am not overpaid. And by the way, neither are Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen or Marines.

Now it may seem as if these are simple (and obvious) statements for me to write, but more and more, they're statements that I don't see or hear in the debate over federal and military salaries.

As things stand, the president has directed that the federal pay scale be frozen for the next two years, and there's been talk in Congress about freezing military pay as well. Some advocates have even called for pay cuts to federal and military salaries. In both cases, the common criticism seems to be that with the inclusion of health, housing and other benefits, federal and military workers are grossly overpaid compared to the rest of the nation.

With all due respect to the people on the other side of the debate, that's just wrong. While I could fill a book with all of the reasons that I believe federal and military personnel aren't being overpaid - my chapter on the need for healthcare benefits for a workforce that regularly puts itself in harm's way would be quite long - I'll stick to three points.

First and foremost, the truth is most of us don't make all that much. Before taxes, the 2011 basic pay salary range for the military goes from $1,467.60 per month for a private with less than two years of experience to $18,936.90 for a four-star general with more than 30 years of service. For federal workers, the pre-tax basic pay range goes from $17,803 per year for a GS-1 (step 1) to $129,517 for a GS-15 (step 10). Now don't get me wrong, at the highest levels, the pay can be substantial.

However, I can safely state that the bulk of the military is not made up of four-star generals and the federal service is not loaded with Step 10 GS-15s. As with most organizations, there are a few at the very top, some more at the very bottom and the majority are scattered throughout the middle.

Secondly, there's the question of benefits. Without writing a dissertation on the military and federal benefit systems, I'll point out that every benefit we receive as federal and military personnel is paid for and earned, not given.

Whether that's medical benefits due to the substantial risk of traumatic injuries or housing benefits due to having to relocate our Families across the country due to orders, every benefit is a direct result of the work we all put in to complete our mission of keeping America safe.

As far as our retirement benefits go, those are earned over a minimum of 20 years of service for servicemembers and 30 years of service for federal employees, and should never be discounted or disregarded. Lastly, and this is especially true of the military, there is no clocking out from work in our profession. For the majority of people in the civilian sector, once they leave for the day or go on vacation, work ends.

That's not the case for military and federal workers. As servicemembers and government employees, we must always be ready to do our duty with the knowledge that our work can take us far away from home and those we love at a moment's notice. We know that the call to action can come anywhere, anytime and that there is no such concept as "unavailable." And unlike other jobs, our "office" isn't a static place. One day, we can be in an air-conditioned room; the next we can be in a tent in a remote forward operating base or on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Arabian Peninsula. For the majority of us who serve our country, what we do for a living isn't just our job - it's our life. Which is why, unlike other jobs, our profession can kill us.

I used to wear the uniform for my country; now I wear a suit and tie. In neither of these roles have I lived the life of luxury; in neither of these roles have I been rich. I've only ever made enough to have a decent living - that's it. So while I understand that the debate should be made, I can't support any argument that says I am overpaid for what it is that I do. Now if you want to talk about a raise, however, that's a different story.