Why We Need to Protect Veteran’s Benefits

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by Ed Mattson

 

Some who have never served in the military asked about the new website (www.yourmilitaryvoter.us) we are building as a way to unite the veteran and active-duty military voters into a contingency with which to be reckoned. Many seem to think we are just another “special interest group” looking to have special status like so many other groups that base their claim on a notion that they “deserve special consideration” or that they are somehow or another, “victims” of some injustice beyond their control. In short, most folks have no idea what it takes to be a member of the armed services or about the sacrifice most of us have made.

The funny thing is, almost all of us never even considered it a “sacrifice” to serve; we went at it with our eyes wide open and did it because someone must step to the plate to defend and protect that which has made America the greatest experiment in freedom imaginable. We all knew we wouldn’t get rich in doing so, or that we would somehow, some place in time, have to defend our rights to the full benefit package that was promised to us for our service. Lord knows we are certainly entitled to that which was promised because on the monetary side, military compensation basically sucks.

Johnny ended up being stationed in Nam Phong, Thailand, affectionately known as The Rose Garden. His journey began like a lot of us, when he went off to boot camp and then on the machinist school at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. Upon completion of his technical training he received A-1 priority orders to head out to Iwakuni, Japan. We all know that meant receiving some 23 shots for before leaving Aberdeen but that was no problem, after all Johnny was now a PFC Marine, and he could take it.

He stopped off in Texas to visit his family and then proceeded to California for transport overseas. When he got to the base in California it was discovered that his shot record had not been updated, which is probably the only time that ever happened in the Corps, so he had to get another 23 shots. That’s a lot of vaccines in a short period of time, so it was no wonder he was sick most the flight to Japan. In the tradition of Murphy’s law (which ironically seems to be a lot like the Corps), when he got to Japan it was discovered that the shot record had not been signed or stamped correctly so they gave him another 23 shots. That’s 69 redundant vaccinations in less than a week!

Anyway, the folks in Japan didn’t welcome Johnny with open arms. They old him they really didn’t need a machinist in Japan but as his luck would have it, they needed one in Nam Phong, Thailand…so it was off to the Rose garden for Johnny. Again, in true Marine Corps fashion, when Johnny asked what the Rose Garden was he was told, “It’s great and you are going to love it”.

After a not so pleasant trip aboard Air Marine Corps (a C-130) that took next to forever to reach Nam Phong, they landed in the middle of nowhere surrounded by jungle. They called the place a “classified” base, probably because nobody knew where it was. For those who have never been in a jungle environment you would never appreciate that first exposure to 130° temperature and humidity of 100%. That alone cannot be compensated for in a military paycheck. Housing was somewhat short of Motel Six consisting of a wooden floor, wire screen sides and a tin roof., but at least they got a couple of light duty days to “climatize”. Not surprising to anyone in any branch of the service, guess what? Upon arrival they told Johnny they didn’t need a machinist and had no idea what one was, so he was to assigned clerical duties.

This is what life in the service is all about. We just do our duty, complain to each other, but we handle the mission, which as you can see from Johnny’s big adventure, is asking a lot for what we are paid. Nobody promised us Club Med.

Now that our readers have some idea what military life is all about, most of ask the citizenry of this country to understand why we are so adamant about the “benefits” we were promised. Sgt. Abbott, while at the Rose Garden was subjected to mosquitoes, bugs big enough to scare a gorilla, and living conditions which included a “six-holer outhouse” that had to be shared with an occasional snake or two, but the cots surrounded by mosquito netting were luxurious. The only liberty available from this remote and isolated jungle spa was a six-hour bus trip to the Air Force Base at Udorn.

Normally one would think a soldier would relish a good hot meal once or twice a day, but at the Rose garden, the best food came out of little boxes and cans known as “C-Rations”, most of which were packaged in the 1950’s (that’s all the way back to pre-Korean War times!), and working conditions in that heat and humidity would surely test the soul of most normal people. The only relief from the elements was when you got lucky enough to get temporary duty in an air conditioned avionics van.

Now to the nitty-gritty… The jungle and foliage back in those days were kept clear by the use of Agent Orange. Last week Sgt. Abbott registered for testing by the VA because he was exposed to the defoliant, but was tuned down because his current income exceeds $32,000/year. This was not what he or the rest of us expected when we were told about “benefits”. It kind of means our government does not want to do the right thing unless we are veterans living in poverty! In 2009, Sgt. Abbott was also notified by the Commandant of the Marine Corps office that he was exposed to a lot of bad chemicals (TCE and PCE) while stationed at Camp LeJune, NC for 4-1/2 years, essentially risking his life in time of peace.

Is it any wonder why we need to unite behind our VOTE to protect the benefits we were promised?

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Following his service in the Marine Corps Ed Mattson built a diverse career in business in both sales/marketing and management. He is a medical research specialist and published author. His latest book is Down on Main Street: Searching for American Exceptionalism Ed is currently Development Director of the National Guard Bureau of International Affairs-State Partnership Program, Fundraising Coordinator for the Warrior2Citizen Project, and Managing Partner of Center-Point Consultants in North Carolina. Mr. Mattson is a noted speaker and has addressed more than 3000 audiences in 42 states and 5 foreign countries. He has been awarded the Order of the Sword by American Cancer Society, is a Rotarian Paul Harris Fellow and appeared on more than 15 radio and television talk-shows.