OPED: It’s About Damn Time Senior Military Leadership Has To Answer for Failing the Enlisted

Philip Yabut / shutterstock.com
Philip Yabut / shutterstock.com

Ending January with testimony from the Senior Enlisted advisors from all six branches of the military (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps., Coast Guard, and Space Force) is overdue. For years now, lower enlisted have had problems with their living standards across the board. While the Air Force is consistently well taken care of, even their senior enlisted have reported watching the standards of care fall off dramatically.

Slated for January 31st, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Weimer’s testimony is widely expected to be some of the most explosive. The Army is now and historically has been the largest and most well-publicized branch of the armed forces. Maintaining this size has meant a lot of corners have been cut over the years, and now that check is coming due. When it comes to their daily living quarters, many are dealing with problems with the maintenance of the buildings.

On-base housing authorities for single soldiers are often at the mercy of the on-base repairs department. Frequently understaffed and chronically underpaid, they make fixing problems at the barracks often one of the last things on their checklists. When they do, it’s often with substandard repairs. A recent interview with a Fort Johnson (aka Fort Polk) soldier focused on the response to a black mold problem in his barracks. Told various ways to fix the problem himself, they suggested a range of ideas from bleach, to scraping it off, to just painting over it.

Another common problem is the access to healthy food. While the dining facility (DFAC) is on post to feed single soldiers who live in the barracks and have little to no access to a kitchen, they can be inaccessible or frequently closed for health code violations. These underpaid single soldiers who rely on the DFAC also have a sizeable chunk of their pay taken back in the form of “meal card deductions” regardless of how many meals they ate there. Even when the DFAC is closed, they still have that money taken.

This presents a big problem when they cannot eat a “nutritious” meal. The average answer is usually visiting one of the eateries on post and paying out of pocket. Food options at these locations are fast food choices, lack proper nutrition, and come at an inflated price compared to off-post.

Now, all that information, along with stories of abusive, toxic, and piss-poor leadership, is frequently talked about online. On Facebook, groups like “US Army WTF Moments” feature a never-ending stream of photos, videos, and screenshots of text messages sent in by Joes. These posts feature a significant portion of the failures the soldiers in the Army deal with frequently. Other branches have similar groups of their own. While not every post shows the ugly side of the Army, they seem to make up a good 95% of the posts.

Putting this information online means recruits are learning the truth before signing on that dotted line. Learning that their recruiter wasn’t exactly truthful has many reconsidering their option to enlist. At a time when more and more Americans are forbidden from serving for physical ailments, past criminal records, drug use, or tattoo placements, the pool of potential recruits is already small enough. Now add in these problems, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to convince people joining up is a good idea.

In October, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told Military.com that the government was considering a change in their funding for the upcoming year. If approved, they would finally provide the services with their full funding for maintenance, a change of $300 million. Across the rest of the decade. While the problems are deep, this could make a big difference if it isn’t once again diverted for some pet project.

Quite simply, the military has allowed lower enlisted conditions to slip for far too long. Officers who can effect change usually couldn’t care less about making a change, and those who do are told to keep quiet or kiss their careers goodbye. Enlisted members simply tell troops to “embrace the suck” and remind them of how much worse it was in their day. Those who want to fix things on the enlisted side find themselves battling uphill, and usually with no support.

Sadly, nothing will be done to fix these issues. Rather it will just be another collection of lip service. Like one junior soldier told Military.com, “I know it isn’t getting fixed. It was just nice to have attention on it. Maybe it helps someone later, but it was nice to just have it acknowledged.”