Cut in military
allowance may hit
lower ranks hard
Army services at Schofield
can help rework budgets and
offer grants or loans
Anthrax briefings heldBy Gregg K. Kakesako
Nearly 42,000 military personnel will see a 25 percent drop in their cost-of-living allowance next month.
Army Sgt. Maj. Mark Ripka, command sergeant major for the 25th Division's 9,000 soldiers, said the cut will hurt, adding that it's unfortunate that service personnel here weren't given more notice.
Ripka, who will lose $90 per month, said the hardship might be hardest on the lower enlisted ranks who may need help in rebuilding their family budget.
The allotment is meant to offset the cost of living outside the continental United States and is not part of a service member's base pay. It is based on a service member's rank, length of service, marital status and number of dependents.
Spec. Felicia Daniels, an Army secretary at Schofield Barracks, said the cut will mean her family of three will have less to spend on recreational activities.
"We will probably have to cut back on our activities to subsidize our essentials," she said.
Ripka said there are Army services at Schofield Barracks to help soldiers rework their budgets or offer them grants or loans.
However, the change in military COLA will not affect 13,282 white-collar federal civil service employees in Hawaii, who on Oahu last year saw an increase in their cost-of-living allowance.
Paul Miller, director of the Honolulu service center for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said the cost-of-living allowance for the 12,573 white-collar federal employees in Honolulu went from 22.5 percent to 25 percent last year.
On the neighbor islands, however, there were no changes in federal COLA. On the Big Island, COLA is pegged at 15 percent, and 22.5 percent on Kauai and Maui.
Miller said the COLA for federal white-collar civil service employees is based on surveys taken every two years comparing the prices between the islands and Washington, D.C.
Federal COLA is not subject to federal income taxes.
The military's COLA is based on annual surveys that compare the prices for about 160 goods and services, such as groceries, gasoline, insurance, entertainment and big-purchase items such as washers and dryers.
A military retail price survey, conducted in March, found that Hawaii prices at military commissaries here for milk, flour and pasta were cheaper than the mainland.
The military here estimated that an Army staff sergeant with 10 years of service, a wife and two children will lose about $72 a month. A Navy lieutenant with the same amount of service and three dependents will see his paycheck shrink by $94 on Aug. 13.
The military's COLA index also is computed by interviewing service members every three years. Two military town meetings are planned for Aug. 13 at Hickam Air Force Base's theater to explain the cuts in military COLA.
The military COLA was cut by about 10 percent in September 1998.
Anthrax briefings heldBy Gregg K. Kakesako
at island military bases
Despite some reluctance in Congress about the Pentagon's mandatory anthrax inoculation program, military planners maintain that it is safe and necessary.
To counter the intense anti-anthrax campaign via the Internet and other media, the Pentagon launched a three-prong educational and informational program, including visits to military bases.
Hawaii, with its high concentration of active-duty military personnel numbering near 42,000, was a logical first choice as the military's Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program's starting position.
The briefings continue today for Marines at Kaneohe Bay, 25th Infantry Division soldiers at Schofield Barracks tomorrow and Hickam Air Force Base airmen and Pearl Harbor sailors Friday.
Maj. Guy Strawder, program director, said besides these town hall meetings, designed to provide active-duty personnel with answers that their commanders or medical officers may not be able to offer, the Pentagon has a Web site (http://www.anthrax.osd.mil) and will activate a toll-free number next month to give service members "a warm body and a voice to talk to."
More than 312,000 service members have received at least one of the six required inoculations, with 109 of them reporting some type of adverse reaction, Strawder said. Of that number Strawder said only 14 required hospitalization or weren't able to report to duty for 24 hours.
Priority is now given to service members and key civilians being sent to the Middle East and South Korea.
By 2003, the military expects that all 2.4 million people in uniform will have been inoculated.
Nearly 200 service members reportedly have refused the shots, citing fears about the vaccine's safety. In Hawaii, at least 14 Marines, one Air Force airman, one Pearl Harbor sailor and one Army soldier have refused to take the inoculation.
Several Kaneohe Marines, Air Force and Navy personnel have been discharged for refusing to take the shots. Although several service members on the mainland have been court-martialed for refusing, no such actions have been taken in Hawaii.
More than 3,000 Pearl Harbor sailors, 700 soldiers at Tripler and more than 6,300 Marines at Kaneohe have been inoculated.
This week a New York congressman introduced legislation to suspend the inoculation program pending the completion of two studies. The studies are being conducted by the National Institute of Health and the General Accounting Office.
Another House bill would make the program voluntary.
But Strawder, a licensed medical technologist, said "the threat posed by anthrax is real."
"The biological weapon represents a grave and urgent danger to U.S. Armed Forces," said Strawder, who served as a medical officer in the Gulf War.
"Anthrax is as deadly, may be even more, than the Ebola virus and 99 percent lethal to unprotected and unvaccinated personnel."
During a briefing at Tripler Army Medical Center, Strawder said voluntary inoculation programs won't work because of low compliance.
"If you believe that the threat is real ... there is no other recourse."
Anthrax is a spore, which when dormant, can survive the most extreme climactic conditions, Strawder said. Anthrax is colorless and tasteless.
"By the time you realize you have been exposed to it," Strawder said, "it's too late."