For years, military pay has lagged behind civilian-sector pay. President Clinton and Congress have proposed a 4.9 percent pay raise, the largest in 17 years. But it still isn't enough.
Service members waiting in line for free food is an embarrassing reminder that, while thousands of American servicemen and women ship out for the Balkan war zone, nearly 12,000 of their families are now on food stamps.
While the Marine Corps provides housing for most of its members in most areas, there simply isn't enough of it at Camp Pendleton. This problem has been compounded by an influx of troops, spokesman Lt. Jeff Landis said.
He also explained that the cost of living in the San Diego area is so high that Marines who are denied post housing often can't afford civilian housing either.
|At West Point, the three-star general lives in these mansion-like quarters. (CBS)|
Throughout the military, it seems rank does have its privileges. Military housing is available for the highest ranking officers. The junior officers and junior enlisted members, who earn the least, are the farthest down on the housing waiting list.
Church volunteer and former military wife Pat Kallenbarger said, "It's not unusual for me to find a family sleeping on the floor for lack of beds and eating on the floor because they don't have a table and chairs. And they don't have the money to either buy them or rent them."
|While junior officers share dormitory-style apartments like these. (CBS)|
Landis disputes this. "We in support roles haven't seen anything like that. If we did, we would assist immediately. It's inexcusable and we simply don't treat our Marines that way," he claims.
Despite that, many agree that service pay has fallen so far behind the booming civilian economy that some families may never catch up.
But growing numbers of servicemen now routinely take second jobs just to make ends meet.
Navy sonar specialist Terrance Leggon's base bay is $1,300 a month - not enough for a family of four and another baby on the way.
"I had an extra job. I worked security part time,"he said.
"Getting no sleep at all," his wifed chimed in.
"To be serving my country and to have to basically beg for food or ask somebody for food is... ridiculous," he continued.