Military Pay Hike No Substitute for Spirit

  • Share
  • Read Later
WASHINGTON: An army may march on its stomach, but the U.S. military's morale problem can't be solved with bread alone. That didn't stop the Senate from passing a 4.8 percent increase Wednesday -- part of a bill called the Soldiers', Sailors', Airmen's, and Marines' Bill of Rights -- by a 91-8 margin. That was more generous even than President Clinton's recent 4.4 percent, and politically a very easy sell. But TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson says that while a few extra bucks never hurt any worker's morale, the military's current slump in recruitment and retention is due in large part to the fact that America's soldiers feel too much like ordinary workers already.

"In the post-Cold War world, soldiers are asking 'Who's the bad guy?'" he says. "They want to feel that they're more than well-armed rent-a-cops." Thompson thinks that missions such as Bosnia and Kosovo -- which now get underplayed as mere side missions because of their political fragility -- might in fact be a better incentive to serve than well-advertised pecuniary lures like salary and the G.I. Bill. "This is what the soldiers I talked to want," he says. "A reason to feel important." More money certainly won't hurt, but the jaded modern soldier needs his uniform to feel less like a business suit, not more.