Keeping the faith with Cody
'I hope you don't forget about us," North Dakota National Guardsman Cody Wentz wrote to me in July 2004. He wrote to describe the conditions under which his unit was fighting. That year he was patrolling in Iraq for roadside bombs in a heavy grav...
'I hope you don't forget about us," North Dakota National Guardsman Cody Wentz wrote to me in July 2004. He wrote to describe the conditions under which his unit was fighting. That year he was patrolling in Iraq for roadside bombs in a heavy gravel truck insulated with boxes of sand.
"I told my family and friends nothing about what I do," he wrote. "I don't want to worry them because to me that is the worst part - having loved ones worried about us."
The heavy gravel truck was not enough. Cody was killed a few weeks later while patrolling for roadside bombs.
To keep faith with Cody's request not to forget about the deployed troops, it is imperative that we continue to press for fair treatment of these courageous young people who do not question why but respond to the call of duty as the country debates.
Blackwater USA, a private security firm, has a government contract to protect the top military, government and civilian leadership in Iraq. The salaries paid these private guards range from $100,000 to $200,000, which is not excessive with the possibility of deadly gunfire around the next corner. Few of us would do it for a million.
North Dakota National Guard personnel face even greater dangers. While the Blackwater guards appear in civilian garb, our Guard troops are ready targets in their military dress. Under these circumstances, it is only fair to insist on a constant reappraisal of the salaries and benefits being provided the Guard while in national service.
Base pay for Cody's rank was probably around $20,000 plus some fringe benefits, depending on individual circumstances. This base salary gives us a ballpark figure with which to consider the issue, keeping in mind that it isn't even close to $100,000 - the minimum wage for doing less dangerous work with Blackwater. That $20,000 is less than half the median income of a North Dakota family.
Because military salaries are so low, some employers around the country are keeping deployed Guard men and women on their payrolls. Maybe the larger corporations and public institutions can do this, but the small enterprises around North Dakota can hardly absorb this overhead in their small payrolls.
Some will argue that the country can't afford better pay and more benefits. As long as only a handful of young people and their civilian employers are bearing the brunt of the war, it seems that they are entitled to more than the traditional salaries and benefits established by past wars.
It is ludicrous to say that we can't pay for the risk and disruption involved. The country is rolling in money. If Congress lacks the courage to pass a war tax to pay for Guard service, then we ought to add it to the national debt with the other billions disappearing into unknown pockets.
At this point, we can best remember Cody Wentz - and the other 11 fallen North Dakotans - by treating his comrades in arms better than he was treated in 2004.
Omdahl is former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher.
Keeping the faith with Cody Lloyd Omdahl 20071105