Cheating Private Ryan

Butte College student and former Marine. Can be reached at

A few weeks before Christmas, I was sitting at the Denver airport waiting for my flight home. Across from me was a young soldier dressed in those all-too-familiar desert camouflage fatigues. His uniform was pressed and starched and had numerous patches sewn neatly here and there. One of the patches was that of the 4th Infantry Division, the same unit that found Saddam some months ago.

I spoke with him during our hour-long wait for our flights. A kid, really, at 19, he had been in Iraq since April and had just finished two weeks of mid-deployment leave. He spoke of anthrax shots and long flights and explained his day-to-day routine. He said that after his deployment, with his time in the Army completed, he’d become a police officer.

I asked about his living conditions and what they’ve been like for the past nine months. He mentioned a tent he shared with a dozen other soldiers. Fairly sparse to be sure, but this was war; sacrifices had to be made.

Sadly, as a single, active-duty soldier, this young man and thousands of others like him are being bilked out of hundreds of dollars each month by the Department of Defense. The military has a policy to charge rent for government quarters. Fair enough, but when soldiers from any branch of the military deploy and live in, say, a fighting hole or a tent, they are still charged that monthly rent.

Each of these single, active-duty soldiers is paying between $400 and $1,300 a month for government quarters in which they do not live; money that reservists, guardsmen and married soldiers (active or not) are not required to forfeit. These soldiers cannot even store their belongings in the living quarters that they are paying rent on while deployed at war because those same rooms have new occupants—the soldiers who have returned home.

Equal pay for equal work comes to mind. Two soldiers, one a reservist and one an active-duty soldier, both serving in Iraq, both single, of the same rank and doing the same job are paid vastly different wages because the active-duty soldiers forfeit 35 to 50 percent (depending on rank and location) of their pay for government quarters that they won’t even be living in for the next year or more.

We hear a lot about the hardships reservists are facing—long and frequent deployments, unequal medical care, inadequate equipment and so on. But our single active-duty soldiers are paying for this war in more than blood. They’re victims of the most devious rent scam in U.S. history.