I’m not a fan of the Dayton Daily news- and even less a fan of their local editorial pages- after years of being mocked by them. First time running for office, I was called “an advertising man with not much to say.” All of you who know me, know that wasn’t true- and my campaign literature at the time was 11×17 covered in text. I once walked out, after they refused to apologize for something that had just appeared in their paper- where a writer said a band (G-Love and Special Sauce) sounded black. As if music sounds a race? Then there was when I mocked the big plans for the 2003 “celebration of flight” which instantly got me on their shit list- since it was Brad Tilson’s baby. We all remember what a fiasco that was.
A few years back, they stopped doing local opinion and promoted Ron Rollins to curate the page. This means ask people to opine for you. I find it lame, but fairer than what came before under the old regime. His second in command is now Dr. Connie Post- yep, a Ph.D. working at a newspaper. Ron must have been on vacation last week, because I sent a short response in to a “Speak Up” piece and Connie asked me to expand it into a guest column. Usually I don’t like working for the evil empire for free- but, in this case, I felt pretty strongly about the issue- and believe it or not- I was on the editorial page last Friday- for once, not being lampooned.
First- the “Speak Up”- a called in, anonymous thing that no reputable paper would do.
This appeared 17 Feb 2015- unsigned:
For those fast food employees striking for $15 an hour, let’s do some math. At $15 an hour, Johnny Fry-Boy would make $31,200 annually. An E-1 (private) in the military makes $18,378. An E-5 (sergeant) with eight years of service only makes $35,067 annually. So you’re telling me that a burger flipper deserves as much as those who are getting shot at, deploying for months in hostile environments, and putting their lives on the line every day protecting you?
My response was published on Friday, 27 Feb. 2015 – Photo was a crop of a shot by Larry C. Price  who used to work for the DDN. It was behind their paywall  (nice to know I was helping their bottom line, as they’ve never given me a link or mention for my stories they’ve taken).
I did not write the headline:
Serving my country as an Army private
By David Esrati
A recent “speak-up” caller compared a $15 minimum wage for “Johnny-Fry Boy” to an E-1 in the military. He stated there was no way flipping burgers was worth more than risking your life for your country on a straight hourly basis.
As a former E-1, I feel qualified to respond.
On Day 1, I was issued clothes. When in training, I didn’t even have to do my own laundry. Food was free. I was given three square meals a day, even if some came in cans or plastic packages. Granted, “fast food” depended on the order of entering the mess hall — first in and you had time to eat; last in and it was eat it or leave it.
Zero rent. For the most part, I lived communally. The WWII-era barracks at Fort Gordon had group showers, and cheek-to-cheek toilets, which took a little getting used to. But it still beat the portable micro housing I sometimes slept in. It came without running water (unless raining), no heat or electricity unless I used the 25-pound hand crank generator that I had to carry with my house, food, bed and M16.
My only utility bill was a phone bill, paid in quarters, via a phone booth.
Health care was 100 percent covered, including dental and vision. If I was injured on the job, I was guaranteed health care for life as well as a disability check.
Job security was solid; in fact, my employer liked to sign me like a pro-athlete. There were signing bonuses via 3- to 4-year revolving contracts. Advancement opportunities were up to me with a very clear career path. All training was provided free.
I learned Morse code at 15 groups per minute send/receive. I jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, which in my time paid an extra $75 a month, so I could visit faraway places and serve as a “community organizer.”
After 20 years, retirement was guaranteed at 50 percent of my pay. Stay in longer and retirement went up. Many of my peers got to travel internationally, sometimes with welcoming arms and others versus small arms. A gym membership was unnecessary. I was paid to work out, often going on long hikes with a very large rucksack. My hours were never subject to overtime. Often I was scheduled to be on the job 24/7.
I always found it ironic that our military, tasked to spread democracy and capitalism, was a lot like socialism.
If the speak-up caller was making an argument that the Private E-1 should make more than “Johnny Fry-Boy,” I’m in total agreement. But, if you say that Johnny Fry-Boy shouldn’t make enough to pay for his health care, clothing, food and shelter, this former E-1 wants to know why he was putting his life on the line to protect a country that doesn’t believe its citizens are entitled to the basic freedoms that financial stability provide — nominally described as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Those freedoms certainly cost a lot more than the $7.25 federal minimum wage.
We’re long overdue for a higher minimum wage and deserve a country that truly treats its citizens as if “all men are created equal,” providing an equal opportunity for advancement, without having to volunteer to die for our great country.
David Esrati served in the U.S. Army, both active duty and reserve, in the 1980s. He got out as an E-4.
I posted this on Facebook- and received a considerable amount of positive feedback. At the Second Street Market yesterday, a few people praised it- and again today, at the Legacy Pancake House- a few more. I’ve had more than a few fellow veterans also thank me- because as one, Scott Ricketts so gracefully summed it up:
The military taught me we had to take care of everyone on the team and pay more attention to help the ones having problems. We were not allowed to leave anyone behind and we’re only as strong as the weakest among us. Making sure the people on the bottom get to the finish line is our collective responsibility. At least that’s what TSgt Esteves yelled at us.
This pretty much sums up why I probably feel closest to my friends who have served.
There are some arguments about “entry level jobs” and the minimum wage. I don’t buy them. I’d be OK with a lower minimum for kids in high school, or for their first 2 years of work, but, there is no excuse for our pathetic minimum wage, or the crying of huge corporations talking about “competitiveness.” McDonald’s operates in Germany, where they have to pay a living wage, GM does too- where they deal with labor unions in a totally different way than they do here. Apple is sitting on $170+ billion in cash- and still refusing to let Americans make much of their product (the Mac Pro which starts at $3k is assembled in Texas- but that’s about it).
Our country has to stop believing the lies that are fed to us by politicians who didn’t serve, who sell out, and for the most part, work against the best interests of the American public. This isn’t the America that any of us want to risk our life for- but we do and did.
It’s time to reassess. We can do better.