You've heard of me but we've never met. I've been part of America's political landscape for around 60 years. You might call me one of the original Baby Boomers. Like other boomers, I'm at the age when I can expect to look forward to retirement and the enjoyment of my government pension. But I'm not your typical Boomer.
Unlike most of today's aging seniors, I've been receiving a government pension since the first day I showed up for work. Heck, I've been pulling down a cushy government pension since the day I was born.
And, get this: I've never actually worked a day in my life. For my entire career, I've done noting but sit around, radiating the serenity that goes with being part of a select, pampered minority. There are currently around 4,225 others that share my Federal job description and are drawing down big bucks -- even though we're officially classified as "inactive." Thanks to Congress, the population of our little off-the-clock but very much on-the-dole clan is set to double by 2012.
And here's the beauty part: I've never been required to contribute one red cent to cover the cost of my upkeep and my generous pension. Since the day I was born, I've been living off the taxpayer. All my creature comforts are covered by the government. I'm a government employee and proud of it.
As you may have guessed, I work for the Defense Department.
Talk about Social Security! I receive free housing for life. Growing up, my appetites were fueled by costly taxpayer-supported imports and billions of dollars are still being spent to satisfy my highly refined tastes. I'm currently relaxing at a sprawling gated community in sunny New Mexico where armed police guarantee that my safety and security are second-to-none. I have 20,000 government specialists assigned to safeguard my health and wellbeing. I get flown around the world free on government planes. The US Air Force is spending a fortune on "Avionics Midlife Improvements" to the B-52H, just to accommodate my special needs.
10,000 of Us Are on the Federal Dole
I'm not alone: There are more than 10,000 like me. But don't call us freeloaders. Although we don't get the publicity we deserve (because of security issues, the Pentagon likes to keep our branch of the service under wraps), we're proud to be members of the Armed Forces. We've been called "responsive," "enduring," "effective" and "flexible." Our services are so highly regarded that, each year, Congress routinely votes to renew the budget that supports our services. More often than not, Congress even increases this budget.
Since the mid-1990s, the funds dedicated to supporting our life-style have doubled to $6.5 billion. That factors out to $650 million for each one of us, making us the highest-paid members of the military.
It may seem strange that you never see our pictures in the newspapers, but then you never see photos of CIA agents, either. When you think about it, we're much more powerful than the CIA so it's probably better that people don't know what we look like. Terrorists would love to get their hands on us but that's not about to happen.
We are on perpetual pension but, believe me, we're worth the expense. After all, we help guarantee that the US retains its position as the world's preeminent superpower. In return, the government provides for all our earthly needs.
Of course, I can't be expected to go on like this forever. The sad fact is, I'm growing old, and Washington knows it. While many Americans are concerned about the rising costs of prescription drugs, I'm a member of a little-known Federal plan that covers all my survival needs. In addition, the government recently embarked on a costly "life-extension program" to prolong my vitality and "significantly enhance" my skills. Over the next decade, many of us are scheduled to benefit from "life-extension" operations that will guarantee that we retain our youthful vigor at least through 2030.
During the Clinton Administration, there were calls to kick us off the Federal dole. It was argued that our services were no longer needed; that we were actually more trouble than we were worth. Some critics warned that our increasing age made us unreliable, even dangerous. Others complained that our abilities were outmoded and unsuited for 21st century military missions that required more finesse. Lt. Gen. William Odum (ret.) complained that we had become too dangerous and costly to maintain. "From a professional's perspective," Odum stated, "it's damn hard to work up any excitement about them."
Fortunately, we still have a lot of friends in business and academic circles. Even Clinton was forced to compromise with our defenders. He declared a hiring freeze to keep our numbers from growing but he agreed to continue generous government subsidies to cover our upkeep. He called this a "stewardship" program but we all knew it was really "pork-barrel" politics.
Years ago, we used to have to prove ourselves in regularly scheduled tests but critics put an end to this, claiming that we were "harming the environment." In the end, this only made our work easier. These days, we no longer have to move a muscle. The government has created sophisticated computers that can "simulate" our work. These simulations give us passing grades and we don't even have to break a sweat.
All in all, it's been a good life. We may have lived in the shadows, without publicity or glory, but we know our services have been respected.
As some of us begin to enter our twilight years, it's occurred to us that we've never paused to thank our fellow Americans for all the trillions of dollars lavished on us over the past 60 years. So, on behalf of myself and the rest of our unsung brigade of quiet warriors, I'd like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation.
Thank you, America. Thanks for all you've given us and all you've done to make our days comfortable and secure.
Oh! Forgive me, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Mark.
Mark-61. I'm a nuclear weapon.
Gar Smith is Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War