Military salaries are the highest they have been in years, with service members enjoying a standard of living commensurate with their civilian counterparts. During this past year’s pandemic and alarming rise in unemployment rates, we in the military recognize how truly fortunate we are to have the type of job security many in the civilian sector do not share.

However, sergeants major, the Army’s most senior NCO rank, have a pay scale that, appallingly, does not increase on par with their officer counterparts. Unlike the substantial pay increases that accompany promotion and the enormous increase in responsibilities from lieutenant colonel to colonel, and colonel to general officer, no such apparatus exists for sergeants major.

Incredibly, a newly graduated SGM from the Army’s Sergeant Major Academy earns the same basic salary as a SGM who works alongside a four-star general. While their respective salaries will reflect the number of years they have served, the salary itself does not increase as these NCOs take on more and more responsibility over the years.

That so many SGMs continue to serve, proudly, long after any financial incentive remains to do so demonstrates the selfless service that is the hallmark of our NCO corps.

Our SGMs are long overdue being paid their fair share in recognition of their vital role ensuring the success of the Army in fulfilling its mission and maintaining our fighting force.

Now is the perfect time to remedy this issue, as the Army puts its “people first” initiative, the Army People Strategy, into full force by revamping its selections process for battalion and brigade commanders and command sergeants major. This refining of the Army’s selection process of its senior leadership was implemented to guarantee that our best leaders are put into command responsibility positions to ensure that the health and welfare of our soldiers is always the top priority.

SGMs who are selected under this new program to serve as the senior NCO in a brigade should receive a pay increase commensurate with the expectations and responsibilities that come with this position. And when they are selected to serve as the SGM alongside a general officer, another pay increase needs to accompany their increased responsibilities, just as it does for officers. Doing so would help reinforce and incentivize the Army People Strategy, which seeks to recognize, develop and retain talent within the ranks.

We must push this issue forward and demand that it become part of our national conversation; we must not repeat the disappointment of 2017.

An attempt to increase the salaries for SGMs seemed to be gaining traction in 2017 when then-Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey floated the idea for the creation of two new enlisted ranks, E-10 and E-11, respectively, to help address the pay disparity that exists between the enlisted and officer side of the aisle. His effort garnered substantial attention across social media and many SGMs and their spouses expressed hope that more economic parity was coming.

Unfortunately, Dailey was unsuccessful as his idea generated little more than hopeful speculation and, four years later, seems to have all but disappeared from conversations within most military circles.

One reason proffered as to why this idea effectively “died on the vine” in 2017 by those few SGMs willing to speak on record was that pay disparities are seen as “the way it has always been done,” and accepted as such. If this is true, then shame on every one of us who serves.

If we allow ourselves to accept such an argument, our forces would still be segregated, openly gay and transgender people would be kicked out immediately, and women would not be allowed to serve in combat arms units.

That is not the Army any of us want to serve in — one that accepts inequitable treatment of one group or class of soldiers due to years of “tradition.” Doing so is a repudiation of the Army People Strategy. Unfair traditions need to be left in the dustbin of history and replaced with fair ones.

It is up to all of us to right this wrong and demand an increase in pay for senior SGMs. That a battalion CSM and a division CSM, whose responsibilities are much greater and works alongside a two-star general, are basically paid the same salary, is ridiculous and needs to be fixed immediately. I cannot think of any better fulfillment of the Army People Strategy than this.

Eve-Lynn Gardner is a freelance writer and spouse of an Army officer.

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