I’m an Army Veteran and CEO of an early stage startup that supports the military family. I served 8 years as a Dustoff Pilot and Medical Service Corps officer – two separate one-year tours to Iraq. I was also born an Army brat to a father who served 21 years. My father was fortunate to never see combat. The military was my life for 31 years and now I serve the military as a civilian.
Does the military need to make cuts? Absolutely. Where should the cuts be made? I have no idea. My hope is that the professionals, in D.C., will take the right actions for the good of this nation. I believe we are all in this together – the men, women, and family members who have served, as well as our civilian counter parts. My thoughts, from this article, address opinions that were directed toward my military family. I believe the commissary was a platform to express a broad opinion by some citizens who have never served or don’t know anyone who has ever served. Remember, only about 1% of our nation gives their life to the military. It’s not a surprise that many people have never met a service member or a military family member. Living in the SF Bay Area I am often told, “You’re the first veteran I’ve ever talked to”.
The picture Mr. Chandrasekaran painted surprised me. Especially after understanding his professional background and who he’s worked with. You have to be extremely intelligent to hold the position he occupies. So I’m not going to question his research. What I do question is the context of the article and a few statements made or cited.
We all bear this cost, even the military service members. We are taxed same as the next person. The only exception is our time in combat, and then our base pay is not taxed. The military service member tolerates the tax system like anyone else. If we are assured the same benefits as the average citizen, then taking our commissaries away is okay. However, we’re not afforded the same benefits.
The average military family moves six to nine times a career. When I was in the Army, I moved nine times. This was just an eight-year career. Even more interestingly, approximately 65K service members move each month. We move, move, and move. It’s one of the great sacrifices we make when we join. On top of that, we are told where to move. Many locations are in remote locations or far off countries.
Our military is a representation of our nation’s social economics, cultures, religions, and colors. The military organization is not a perfect cross section, but it’s closer than any other in the world. In order to keep morale high and encourage people to serve, the commissary acts as a constant to our people. You will be hard pressed to get an educated young man, from NYC, to join if he is not afforded some of the products he grew up with. Believe it or not, being able to get a certain type of ketchup is sometimes the closest thing to home. My mom used to send me Big Red soda when I was stationed in Korea and then deployed to Iraq – that made a difference in my life.
In locations like Monterey, CA, and San Antonio, TX, the military exchange footprint is significantly smaller than Ft. Polk, LA, or Pyongtaek, South Korea. If you’re a Mexican-American from Texas, you’re not going to find the corn tortillas your civilian counterpart, who never moves, is afforded. The Commissary provides this, and it did for me when I was stationed in Enterprise, AL.
The commissary or AAFES and NEX are for morale. Believe it or not, it’s stuff like this that makes military life a bit more tolerable.
“In an era when private employers are reducing health care and pensions, the military continues to offer generous retirement benefits, including to service members who have never spent a day in combat.”
Serving in combat does not matter. What matters are the unusual sacrifices we make that our civilian brothers and sisters take for granted. When you take the oath to serve you give up rights. You now belong to The United States of America.
Here is a list of a few rights we give up:
- Freedom – This right is broad, but here are two examples: we are not free to travel when we desire. And when we do, we have to ask for permission. Additionally, you lose your privacy. When I served, I had the right to ask personal questions of my soldiers if I thought it affected the mission; my commander could do the same to me.
- Grooming standards – You have to shave everyday and keep a tapered haircut.
- You are told where you will live every two to three years.
- You can only fraternize with service members of the same rank.
Here is a list of unusual job requirements:
- You will get up five days a week at 0530 and exercise before work
- You will be required to march once a quarter with a 50lb pack in full battle gear for 12 miles
- You will train quarterly, in combat operations, that could result in injury or fatality
- In my case, I flew a helicopter for seven years resulting in constant ringing of my ears and back problems.
- My father, was an Artillery officer and never went to combat, but has a hard time hearing and is banged up from training.
- I have friends who have died in training accidents – not combat.
- We are not sitting behind a desk like I am now – the military is a physical career that destroys your body.
“Those on active-duty also have bucked national trends. Over the past decade, military salaries have grown at a faster rate than those of civilian workers. The average enlisted soldier now earns more than 90 percent of Americans who have less than two years of college. Most Army captains — the third-most-junior rank of officer — will take home more than $90,000 this year.”
I left the Army as a senior captain. My responsibility was the equivalent to a director of a major corporation. If I were working at a start-up, I would have been the equivalent to the CEO.
Here is a list of what I did and what I was responsible for. Keep in mind, I spent my 26th-29th years of age in combat:
- I led and managed 100 men and women in combat operations (pilots, flight engineers, and medics)
- I was responsible for the medical evacuation coverage of 6 locations in Iraq – a footprint half the size of Texas
- I was responsible for 21 Blackhawk helicopters and medical equipment; that’s about $300M worth of stuff
- I was responsible for the training of all my personnel
- Oh, I was also a pilot commander
- My organization was responsible for providing medical care and medically evacuating over 4K coalition forces, civilians and bad guys
- I was directly responsible for training over 400 officers
After starting my MBA at Cornell in 2007, I realized I was greatly underpaid. What do you think?
Norb Ryan, a retired vice admiral who runs the Military Officers Association of America, a 380,000-member organization that lobbies on behalf of active and retired personnel. “We owe it to them because they’ve put in decades of extraordinary sacrifice on behalf of our nation.”
Could not agree more with Vice Admiral Ryan. And let’s not forget the stress and pain we put our families under. I was single when I served. But I still had a family. My parents and sister went though two years of hell. I have no idea what it’s like to worry if your loved one will come back. 53% of our service members are married. 43% have children. That is a lot of people going through hell during deployments.
“The commissary at Lejeune now rivals the nicest American supermarkets. There’s filet mignon in the meat rack, wedges of Camembert in the cheese section and fresh baguettes in the bakery. Gone is the surplus feel. Every item is stocked in almost every flavor and size. There are two dozen varieties of Ocean Spray cranberry juice and 15 types of ketchup.”
Should there be 15 types of ketchup at the commissary? No. Should there be cuts? Yes. We’ll figure out the right answer for everyone.
I just want our nation to understand the sacrifices our military and their families make. We’re not better because we serve. We just have different lives. These lives should be equal to my San Antonio friends, who never had to worry about finding tortillas to make enchiladas- thank goodness for the commissary.
Written By: Anthony Garcia
CEO and Co-founder of Adjacent Applications. Anthony was born in Frankfurt Germany, and is the son of a retired Lieutenant Colonel, making him an “official military brat” who truly bleeds “Army Green”. After attaining his BA in Business Administration from St. Mary’s University of San Antonio, Anthony served in the U.S. Army for eight years as an officer and Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) helicopter pilot. He served two back-to-back, combat deployments to Iraq. After his military service, Anthony obtained a MBA from Cornell University. Anthony’s civilian employment is highlighted by assignments as the Business Development Director at Widetronix, Inc., and a General Manager for SRI International.