After scraping by financially for many years, members of the U.S. military will be receiving heftier paychecks in the mail this month.

President Bush signed a military spending package giving service personnel their biggest raise in 20 years on Jan. 10, much to the relief of soldiers and sailors.

Senior Petty Officer Dave Elmer has had a difficult time making ends meet, even after 9 years in the Navy. He and his wife Stacy have a son, Carson, and are grateful for the pay raise.

Elmer's base pay as an engineman first class aboard the destroyer USS Howard is $27,000 annually, plus upgrades and allowances. But when his twice-monthly paycheck arrived last week it was up about seven percent fatter than before — about $230 more after taxes than previous checks.

"Every little bit always helps but that extra money we're getting is going to make a big difference," Elmer said.

His wife admitted the family has been living paycheck to paycheck. "I know many military families who are on food stamps," Stacy Elmer said.

"Sometimes it gets rough and you sometimes think, man — should we get out?" she said. Sometimes she said they ask themselves questions like, "Could we give our son a better life if he got a job outside the military?

"But raises like this help us stay in."

However, many servicemen and women haven't stayed in — especially in the 1990s. Even with these groundbreaking pay increases the military can't always compete with the private sector's salaries.

No matter what the financial abilities of the military, officials said they want to continue to pay their troops generously in respect.

"We want to show our people that their service is valued and that they don't have to go home and apologize to their families for their paycheck," Cmdr. Jack Papp said.

The largest raises go to enlisted men like Elmer — those with lots of experience who are largely leaving the military for private industry.