THE GREAT PENTAGON HEIST -- PART II
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
Several weeks ago, I wrote about how the U.S. taxpayer and the credit-card
companies were being ripped off by the Department of Defense credit-card racket.
Well, truth to tell, I got the story only half-right, a fact that's been impressed
upon me by airmen and Marines, soldiers and sailors and DOD civilian employees
who've sent the largest barrage of mail I've received since I wrote in 1971
that Vietnam was a bad war and we should get out immediately. The como then
was in support of my position, but this time around I've been catching flak
by the buckets.
In thousands of letters, our Joes and Janes are letting me know they're being eaten alive by a flawed, government-required credit-card system that few want. Many believe this is another setup that's good for the politicians' re-election funds and bank executives' pockets but bad for the troops. Many blame their senior military leadership for not standing tall and fixing this problem. "Our soldiers are being used by the Army," writes Chief Warrant Officer Jim Campbell.
Here's a typical scenario that happens far too often: Sergeant Patriot, a Green Beret, is awakened in the middle of the night and told to go join a Special Forces team for a secret mission in Kuwait. He grabs his gear, kisses his wife goodbye and heads to the airport, where he buys a ticket on his government credit card. Once in Kuwait, since his mission is undercover, he checks into a civilian hotel at $200 a night for a bare-bones room. He needs wheels, so he rents a car. And all of his meals are eaten at restaurants -- which in Kuwait City ain't cheap. Patriot pays all duty-incurred expenses via Pentagon Plastic, and after 45 days, when the mission's accomplished, he returns to Fort Campbell.
But instead of getting a medal for a dangerous job well done, his command sergeant major eats him alive. "Patriot, the Bank of America rep's been all over me like a rash because of your delinquent account. You're 15 days in arrears, and now you're on the command deadbeat list. The CO's fit to be tied -- you've made our outfit look bad, and the general's had him for lunch. He wants to see you NOW."
"But sergeant major, I don't even have orders yet, so I can't claim for expenses," Patriot replies. "Someone goofed, and I was too busy executing a hot-and-hairy mission to even think about it in Kuwait. I went where I was ordered to go, and believe me, it wasn't a vacation."
Orders are cut. Patriot hotfoots it to Finance. He files a claim. Bank of America continues to demand its money and threatens to garnish Patriot's pay. His credit-card bill is a cool $22,000, about what he grosses in a year -- and there's the wife and kids to feed.
It takes 48 working days for the folks at Finance to reimburse him, at which point he finally can pay off his card. Six months later, he's passed over for promotion for having a bad credit rating and bringing discredit on his Special Forces Group. Fed up, he quits the Army with 14 years of dedicated and distinguished service. Another casualty of the Pentagon credit-card craziness.
Every day there are hundreds of our service personnel and DOD civilian employees fighting through such nightmares. All because Congress thoughtlessly passed the Travel and Transportation Reform Act of 1998, which pretty much has had our Pentagon employees financing the U.S. government ever since.
Only the very senior officers can afford to use these government cards. Certainly most of the enlisted personnel -- whose wages are the lowest in the USA except for migrant workers -- can't. And the irony is that the high brass have the clout that puts them first in the line when it comes to reimbursement.
"The Pentagon should go back to the good old days when you filed in advance for travel and expenses and you could expect a check in 24 hours," says retired Col. David Hunt.
Or better yet, the Pentagon should fire the money-hungry credit-card companies and operate Pentagon Plastic itself. It's called taking care of the troops.
Http://www.hackworth.com is the address of David Hackworth's home page. Sign in for the free weekly Defending America column at his Web site. Send mail to P.O. Box 11179, Greenwich, CT 06831.
(c) 2001 David H. Hackworth
Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.