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updated: 4/8/2011 1:00 PM

Lombard soldier asks: What if soldiers shut down like government?

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  • Matt Spartz of Lombard

      Matt Spartz of Lombard

 
By Army Lt. Matt Spartz, Lombard
Special to the Daily Herald

Editor's note: Army Lt. Matt Spartz, a lifelong Lombard resident, was deployed to Afghanistan a year ago with the 101st Airborne Division. A 2008 journalism graduate of University of Illinois, he is submitting occasional reports for the Daily Herald.

Last week, six more soldiers were killed in one of our deployment's hardest battles.

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This week, the government looks set on losing a battle with compromise, probably resulting in a freeze of government -- and in turn, military -- paychecks.

Imagine telling our boys before last week that in return for one last mission -- in the month you expect to go home -- that they will probably not get paid this month. What would the Wisconsin teachers union do if they were told that they probably wouldn't get paid next month? You might be hard-pressed to find them at their desks.

We already know how Midwest senators would handle the news.

In protest of making hard decisions on the battlefield, we could have fled ourselves across the borders to Pakistan, China, or Tajikistan.

But would any of us really not show up for work? Of course not.

There are some general grumblings in the ranks about the precarious state of our paychecks, just as my company first sergeant said there was in 1995 when the government shut down for 27 days at a cost of $1.4 billion.

But now the American Federation of Government Employees is threatening to sue the government if essential employees are mandated to work through the shutdown.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates discussed last fall the growing divide between members of the military and the civilians we protect. This truly is an embodiment of the burgeoning warrior class developing with a deep chasm in our society. Many have commented on this gap as deeply troubling.

What is more troubling? Public worker unions threatening to strike because they are being required to contribute more to their retirement benefits and subject to merit-based pay increases? Or a sect of citizens who in the absence of basic pay are willing to march and air assault to their deaths for the enforcement of the national security blanket?

It's worthy to note that despite some of the hardest fighting here in years, with 117 soldiers killed in our division this deployment, with the lowest military pay increase since 1962 (when we didn't get one), our brigade has a 100 percent re-enlistment rate.

The government is in dire need of belt tightening. The military, in the midst of a 10-year war, has made giant budget cuts led by Secretary Gates, and taken the minuscule 1.4 percent pay increase. And this year we have fought harder than ever. Other public employees may get paid late, or be forced to take unpaid leave, and they threaten to sue the government that employs them.

Maybe it takes the raw experience of actual life and death actions to distill the pettiness from logical policy decisions. Maybe it's because in the absence of a C17 flown by the Air Force, soldiers fighting on the Afghanistan border have no choice but to show up for work.

If public employees are dissatisfied with the way their employer does business, then quit. You have that choice, because we live in a comparatively free-market democracy.

Being in Afghanistan you learn a thing or two about making hard decisions. Opting to not fund the government as a political tactic doesn't seem like one of them. I mentioned in an earlier column that this war can be "won," however we decide to define it, if we are willing to do whatever it takes.

Perhaps we just aren't there yet.

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