In his July 29 letter, "Living on Military Pay," Charles Edwards displayed either invincible ignorance or wanton disregard for fact. In either event, he does a disservice to those on active duty.

Mr. Edwards's statement that his cousin attended West Point and earned an MBA "for free" might be true in that his cousin did not pay cash for his education. However, his cousin incurred a service obligation of at least four to five years after graduating from the U.S. Miliary Academy. He incurred an additional active-duty obligation if the military paid for the MBA. This hardly makes the education "free" in the truest sense of the word.

Mr. Edwards's statement that only his cousin's base pay is taxed is also false. Flight pay and other bonus pay also is taxable. Only his basic allowance for quarters and basic allowance for subsistence are not taxable.

Mr. Edwards's statement that most states do not tax income of military personnel is also false. While the Soldier's and Sailor's Civil Relief Act precludes states from taxing the income of active military personnel involuntarily stationed in the state, it does not preclude the military person's home state from taxing his or her income -- and most do.

In more than 27 years of active military service, with assignments overseas and in states outside Virginia, I still was taxed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The finance office even withheld Virginia taxes from my pay. Most people on active duty experience this, except those from the few states that specifically exempt military pay of their residents or that have no income tax.

Mr. Edwards's remarks about the educational levels of enlisted personnel are so condescending as to not warrant publication by your paper. While most enlisted personnel may not have a college degree, most have at least a high school education, and a large number do have a college education. Regardless, they are entitled to decent housing for themselves and their families. The reality is that much of the housing for military families, as well as for single personnel, is small and substandard in comparison with that enjoyed by their contemporaries who opted not to serve in the military.

Had Mr. Edwards volunteered to serve a tour in one of the armed forces his perspective on reality would be more accurate.

ROBERT M. FORREST III

Luray, Va.

The writer is a retired Army chief warrant officer.

In his July 29 letter, Charles Edwards emoted about how much his cousin, a major in the Army, was paid. Although his raw data were correct, his assumed fully taxable amount of $94,000 was overstated. I am a lieutenant colonel living in Northern Virginia and am more than familiar with the issue of pay. I'm not sure what Mr. Edwards thinks a middle manager in private industry with more than 18 years with the company and an MBA should make.

The real problem with the discussion is that pay is only one element to be considered. What about having to move every three years or so with marginal moving allowances as well as no 401(k)s, stock options or bonuses? Spouses rarely are able to maintain a career, and real estate agents make more money on selling your house than you do.

Also, how many companies require extended periods of family separation and then force their employees to look for another job at mid-career with a pension of about a third of their prior total pay. (Retirement allowance is based on base pay only, not including allowances.)

I take particular exception to Mr. Edwards's assertion that the enlisted personnel have a great deal compared with their civilian counterparts. Studies show that enlisted pay over a career compares favorably with other careers for noncollege graduates. In the Marine Corps, only about 25 percent of our personnel live in on-base housing, and more than half of the approximately 25,000 housing units available are considered inadequate. Waiting for an on-base house can take from four to 12 months and then the houses are usually old and relatively small.

Mr. Edwards is correct that we are all volunteers. At times when I get a little jealous of my civilian friends who have nice houses and stable careers, I think of the things I have done and places I've been.

Like any good business, the government must pay whatever it takes to hire and retain the quality of personnel necessary to perform the job. Our job is to defend the nation by possibly laying our lives on the line. Mr. Edwards should celebrate the freedom he has through the service of people such as his cousin.

CURTIS W. MARSH

Fairfax