THROWING OUR TROOPS TO THE SHARKS

At a time when American field commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan say they need every single soldier they can get hold of, thousands of our battle-ready troops are being held back in the U.S. Why not deploy them? Because the Pentagon has hung this label on them: “Security risk.”

At a time when American field commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan say they need every single soldier they can get hold of, thousands of our battle-ready troops are being held back in the U.S. Why not deploy them? Because the Pentagon has hung this label on them: “Security risk.”

Ohhhhh. That conjures up images of soldiers unwilling to fight – maybe because they have sympathies for the bad guys. Or maybe they’re unsavory characters who might attack their own commanders. But, no, there’s nothing squirrelly in the make-up of these folks. Their only “crime” is that they’ve fallen deeply into debt here at home.

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Like other Americans, military people can have an illness, go through a divorce, or just get caught in a credit card crunch – and debt piles up. But our troops also are targeted by predatory “payday lenders” – chains of quick-money outfits clustered around military bases, luring soldiers to borrow against their next paychecks at exorbitant interest rates.

When debt payments reach about a third of a soldier’s paycheck, the military brass designates him or her a risk and yanks their security clearance, meaning they’re barred from duty abroad. The Pentagon’s rational is that soldiers in debt might be tempted to sell secrets or military equipment to the enemy. More than 6,300 members of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines have lost their clearances in a recent four year period due to financial reasons. The true size of the problem, however, is much larger, since the Army – which employs the vast majority of our troops – refuses to release its numbers.

But why isn’t the Pentagon standing with the troops? Instead of branding them for life as security risks, the top dogs should work with these good soldiers to refinance their loan-shark debts with long-term loans at a low – or even zero – interest rate. Lenders should not be allowed to profit from the hardships of American soldiers. Whatever happened to “support our troops”?

“Email from Bill K,” June 11, 2008

“More troops denied duty because of debt Finances linked to security risk,” www.boston.com, October 22, 2008

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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