Today we remember with a mixture of sorrow and anger the horrific terrorist attack on 9/11 that brought down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, as well as the attack on the Pentagon and the downing of an aircraft in Pennsylvania. Around the country, moments of silence will be observed and tributes will be made to those whose lives were lost on that tragic day 14 years ago.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans experienced an upsurge in patriotism and in appreciation for our military and first responders, whose heroic actions were praised far and wide. Flags flew in neighborhoods across the country, and yellow ribbon decals with the exhortation to “Support Our Troops” appeared on car bumpers.
I’m not so sure, though, that we as a nation have put our money where our mouths are, so to speak. Shortly after the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, President Bush and the Congress sent troops into Iraq to engage in a costly and deadly war that most experts now agree was a mistake. Not only that, but our soldiers were put in harm’s way with inadequate armor for either their bodies or their military vehicles, often resulting in injury and death.
Back home, injured and psychologically damaged service men and women have faced backlogs at VA medical centers and in the VA’s processing of their medical claims. It’s cold comfort to a seriously injured warrior to tell him we appreciate his service. Better to show him by helping him heal.
People talk about police officers, firefighters and military personnel as if they are superheroes. Yet they certainly don’t get paid like it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, the average salary for a firefighter was $48,750 and for a police officer $59,530. And that’s the average. Many first responders make much less. And a first year enlisted soldier makes a mere $20,400. In contrast, the average salary of top executives was $122,060. And according to the Wall Street Journal, top CEOs make 373 times as much as the average worker in the U.S. (WSJ, May 13, 2015)
I realize that being a cop or a firefighter or a soldier is not just a job, but a calling. Like teachers (my favorite people, who, by the way, made an average of $58,000 in 2014), these men and women did not go into their chosen field for the money. But wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of waving flags and sporting bumper stickers, we rewarded them tangibly for doing the difficult and dangerous work of keeping us safe?
Maybe we can tap those multi-million dollar CEO salaries and give our men and women in uniform a raise.