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From The Hurt Locker to Capitol Hill From The Hurt Locker to Capitol Hill

From The Hurt Locker to Capitol Hill

by Justin Constantine

February 7, 2010

The Hurt Locker was good, but will our real soldiers get an award?

The Academy Awards wouldn't be the same without a dark horse candidate for Picture of the Year. This year's unexpected hotshot: The Hurt Locker, a thriller of a drama that follows three members of an Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal squad in Iraq. Few military jobs are so dangerous, and the movie does our soldiers great justice in portraying the difficulties they face.Fortunately, Hollywood isn't the only town picking up on this story. So is Washington. Jerry McNerney, a Democratic Congressman from California, recently introduced legislation that would increase combat and hazardous duty pays. In today's conflicts, our service members deploy several times, spending long periods of time separated from their families, exposed to an unseen and elusive enemy. They more than deserve a few extra bucks.When I arrived in Al-Anbar Province in September 2006, the operational tempo was extremely high. As a Marine I had been trained to expect that, but the pace and amount of direct action with our enemy was still astonishing. I was only there for six weeks before being sent home on a Medevac. Two weeks after I arrived one of our convoy vehicles was hit by an IED. Two weeks after that I was almost blown up by an IED. Two weeks after that I was shot in the head by a sniper.After I was shot, a private nonprofit organization, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, paid for my wife's plane ticket to be with me at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. My family only lived 45 minutes away from the hospital, so they could visit regularly. A young friend of mine, a corpsman who had been shot through the face, was not so lucky. His mother rarely visited. She couldn't afford to take the time off and travel from three states away.To make such stories history, Congressman McNerney has proposed an increase in the family separation allowance from $250 per month to $450. The family separation allowance is intended to help the families of military members who are separated from their dependents for more than 30 days, and compensate them for the added household expenses due to that separation.Imagine how difficult your life would be, and how much more money you would have to spend, if your husband or wife left home for seven to 15 months at a time. Would you have to pay more often for babysitters, lawn services, and prepared food? Would you have to take extra time off from work to do all those things that usually take two?Now imagine the stress on you and the rest of your family if your spouse wasn't just gone from home, but in Iraq or Afghanistan, and you spent every day scared to death of a phone call. Or imagine yourself as the deployed service member, trying to focus on the mission in front of you, worrying from afar if your family has enough money to pay for food, rent, and utilities. Isn't it worth $200 more per month to help alleviate the psychological and physical stress, heartache, lack of sleep, and the cost of a missing spouse and parent?This nation has dedicated tremendous resources to taking care of our service members through advances in armor, medical treatments, and a focus on a successful transition to the private sector at the end of a military career. We now need to show a renewed dedication to the individual service members while they are in harm's way, far from their loved ones. Money can't buy happiness, but it can help a military family avoid crippling debt during a deployment.Besides, these types of pay have not been raised in years. Most federal employees receive annual pay raises. Members of Congress certainly do. Surely our country's service members deserve the same.You want to see how rough a deployment can be? Watch The Hurt Locker. Pay attention to the Spartan living conditions; the incredible work schedule; and the sand that gets in every crack, crevice, hole, and container.  Notice the constant vigilance that's required of the soldiers-a type of vigilance that often has adverse psychological effects further down the line. And if all those IEDs in the movie make you anxious, imagine what it's like in real life.Justin Constantine is a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project and the Founder of Iraq and Back
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