Cindy Williams ["Our GIs Earn Enough," op-ed, Jan. 12] is certainly entitled to her opinion, but I would hazard a guess she has never spent a cold night on guard duty in Bosnia, a sweltering week on a gunnery range at Fort Hood, Tex., or an afternoon settling a tense marketplace dispute between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo.

I'm sure Williams has never lived in the aged housing provided by the military or shopped in the meagerly stocked commissaries and post exchanges she refers to as part of our benefits.

I'll guess that Williams has never been sent away from her family for months at a time, working under dangerous conditions, not knowing when she would be back.

I'll wager that Williams has not moved her spouse and children to different duty stations seven times in the past 10 years, uprooting relationships with family and friends along the way.

And I'd like to see Williams's plan for reducing the frequency of our deployments, improving working conditions and instigating "relaxed rules" that would increase retention and help with recruiting.

How much will that plan cost?

I consider it a privilege to serve my country, and I thank the American people whom I serve for their generosity in our recent pay increase.

Williams should try walking a few miles in the boots of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who keep this country safe. Then, if she still thinks we "earn enough," I'll trade her my excessive pay and the job that goes with it--straight up.

--Paul Swiergosz

In "Our GIs Earn Enough," Cindy Williams gives me additional reasons for not encouraging anyone to join the military. It seems that the general population does not have the slightest idea what hardships the military endures for the defense of this country.

Williams's statement, "Proponents of higher pay also note that military people put up with hardships such as long hours and family separations. Yet many civilian occupations make similar demands, and firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel, like many in the military, risk their lives on the job," gives me chills. How long are these professionals separated from their families on a continuing basis?

In the 12 years that I have been married, I have been separated from my family for 2 3/4 years. Try being 6,000 miles from your family and listening to problems that are occurring at home that you are unable to help with. The proposed pay raises do not make up for the additional costs one incurs during these separations.

My dissatisfaction with military life will not be fixed solely with money. Items such as extended deployments, lack of health coverage for dependents, substandard base housing and lack of empathy from the general population all contribute to the problems that the military is having in recruiting and retaining personnel.

Why would I have my son join the military and have to put up with this? Williams should spend some time in the field with the people she says don't deserve a proper raise.

How much is a life worth for standing guard over our country to protect our freedom?

--Jeff Peterson

It appears that Cindy Williams is massaging the numbers to inflate military members' pay and allowances.

Williams writes that a private with four months experience makes $21,000 per year in pay and allowances.

This is the rare, best-case scenario. What Williams fails to mention is that single enlisted members living on base or post receive no allowances. And most junior enlisted fit this description. They eat in chow halls and sleep in barracks. In the Navy, sailors hotbunk in rotation, using the same bed at different times of the day. Field exercises can mean "spartan" living conditions in remote locations with MREs (meals, ready to eat).

According to the new 2000 pay chart, pre-tax salary for that private is $1,005.60 per month. True, he or she gets housing and food instead of allowances, but anyone who has ever worn the uniform of a junior enlisted person can tell you that the sacrifices are tangible and significant.

I know that when I was a young airman, asleep in a poorly heated tent near the DMZ on a cold winter's night in Korea, I never imagined that someone would have the temerity to suggest that I was making too much money.

--Adrian R. Stewart