Government Spending

Department of Defense Highlights Pay Inefficiency, Recommends Only Deserving Soldiers Get Combat Pay


Armed Soldiers

The Department of Defense released its 11th quadrennial report on military compensation this month. The report offers insight into the inefficiency of military's bureaucracy and highlights several obvious reforms to the military's pay structure.

For example, the report determined that established special and incentive payments—simple pay bonuses for certain groups such as Special Operations—help keeps soldiers in specialty fields. It has proven especially helpful in keeping personnel in the military when they have marketable skills that could pay better in the private sector, or when they are working under rough conditions.

"Such pays are essential to maintaining competitive compensation in many specialized career fields, responding rapid growth in demand for certain skills, and compensating personell for dangerous or undesirable working conditions."

This seems a tad bit simplistic as a conclusion, especially since militaries have used pay bonuses to reward and retain experienced soldiers for several centuries. But the fact that it was stated so clearly and repeatedly suggests that someone in the Department of Defense needed to be reminded.

The report also says that "combat benefits themselves are not correlated with exposure to combat or imminent danger." In fact, the vast majority of combat benefits have more to do with family size and income, as well as other factors that have nothing to do with actual combat or danger. In fact, people with the higher income receive the best combat benefits. Furthermore, people in the greatest danger actually receive the fewest benefits, the report states. In addition, combat pay is no longer used narrowly. Though it once covered only a very narrow range of military activity, it can now be given to people far behind the front lines. No doubt most Americans would be delighted to hear that it is off-the-ground officers, not the grunts on the line, who get good combat pay.

At least the Department of Defense is aware of these problems. The DOD made several suggestions for greater efficiency, such as a Combat Tax Credit, and a Direct Support Tax credit. These would allow soldiers to file for tax credits of various sizes based upon their proximity to danger. Perhaps these changes, if implemented, can help save a compensation system that has been FUBAR for a while. But a larger question remains: What will keep it from happening again, especially when combat pay started as an effective system the first time? Government accountability cannot be a sporadic undertaking. 

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  1. “No doubt most Americans would be delighted to hear that it is off-the-ground officers, not the grunts on the line, who get good combat pay.”

    In the current combat environment, with the asymmetric nature of attacks against troops (roadside IEDs, etc.), there is no such thing as a safe zone.

    1. There’s certainly a More Danger Zone though isn’t there?

      1. On a micro level, it depends and isn’t predictable. I know a full colonel who got shot by infiltrators at a provincial governor’s compound with lots of security. A private who has to climb a mountain every day to hang out on an observation post is in certain districts pretty safe, even if people are stepping on mines three klicks away.

        But when I went to Iraq they still had Kuwait as a danger pay area, which is relatively bullshit. I think there was one terrorist attack there in the last ten years against US military, at least going by open source news.

        1. Someone through a brick through a window of our bus when we were heading back from the port to DOHA. Does that count? (kidding)

    2. I believe they’re referring to things like Air Force and Navy ground crews that are hundreds of miles away from any danger.

      When I was over there, there were stories of general officers flying over once a month just so they could collect their tax exemption + combat pay.

      1. They disallowed that (flying in once a month) earlier in the year.

        Now you get prorated, so if you fly in for one day you get one day’s worth of hostile fire pay.

    3. I think you’re missing the point.

      Combat pay is $150, but you also get that month’s pay tax-free. For senior officers, a lot of which are in staff positions in HG (which are pretty damn safe day to day), that comes out to a lot more money in-pocket that for the E-3 sitting in a fighting position at the pointy end.

    4. I can’t speak for TODAY, but as of 206-2008, the Green zone was pretty damned safe. Yeah, you had IDF and all, but I would imagine their death rates over a year would be pretty similar to death rates in a town of that size stateside, We took all of our casualties there, and people rolled around without any protection.

      I lived in an Iraqi Police Station on the edge of Sadr City. Maybe there is SOME threat when you live on a FOB or in a Green Zone, but it’s all relative.

      Also, I blew all my Iraq money on stupid shit, like the stock market. Bought my first stock at the age of 28…in the summer of 2007.

  2. I didn’t read the report, but it is well known that you only have to be in a combat zone for a few hours to get combat pay. Generals and other high ranking officer abuse this by flying into a zone for a two days (last day of month and first day of month) to get combat pay for two months.

    The idea to do this through tax credits is just dumb though, but transparently an attempt by DoD to get combat pay out of their budget. Once it’s a tax credit, then Congress doesn’t need to appropriate money to DoD to pay for it, so they can spend appropriations on other stuff.

    1. I predict a compromise: Combat pay will continue to show up in your paycheck, but you will get an offsetting deduction!

      1. This is pretty much military urban legend. CENTCOM controls all GO travel to and from their AOR and routinely turned off by my estimation 90% of the requests (although the fact that that many scumbags were requesting visits tells you something). And there has been a specific policy forbidding end-of-month/beginning-of-month travel since 2004. Basically if you’re staying less than 21 days, and you overlap 2 months, it requires CENTCOM/CV approval.

        I mean the system is ridiculous and screwed up, things like getting combat pay in Qatar is just stupid, but this one specific instance is BS and the people in charge actually did something about it.

  3. “No doubt most Americans would be delighted to hear that it is off-the-ground officers, not the grunts on the line, who get good combat pay.”

    It’s a flat rate for everyone ($250×2, I think), plus income tax free for everyone. Lower level enlisted don’t owe much taxes, so they don’t get much benefit.

    The DoD is spinning this as equity, but it appears to be all about saving money. They’re not talking about giving more money to anyone that I’ve seen, just cutting back on officers tax benefits and not paying lots of people anything. Which is fine as far as it goes, but lets not pretend this is going to actually benefit anyone as briefed thus far.

  4. I like the alt.text, but truth be told, that red thingie on the one guy’s rifle is a BFA, or “Blank Firing Attachement.” It’s used (obviously) when firing blanks, because blank rounds contain a smaller charge that is insufficient to cycle the weapon unless the barrel is blocked, which the BFA does. And needless to say, you sure as fuck wouldn’t want one on your rifle if you’re using live rounds.

    So yeah, the guys in the picture weren’t doing anything dangerous.

    1. So either it’s very subtle satire, or he illustrated a post about combat pay with a picture of troops on a training mission.

    2. Blank Firing Adapter.

  5. So either it’s very subtle satire, or he illustrated a post about combat pay with a picture of troops on a training mission.

    . . . or, more likely, he belongs to the 99.997% of the populace that doesn’t know what the red thingie is.

    1. I know my guns pretty well. Just FYI. High resolution pictures like that don’t usually come from the front, either.

  6. Lets hit it on up man, Wow.

  7. I have received combat pay twice in my military career – once while serving in Kosovo, where the main danger was the thick, brown smoke coming from the local power plant. The other occasion was while in Iraq, where trips off base carried the risk of IEDs (road side bombs), and just being on base carried the risk of incoming rockets and mortars. Yes it is difficult to actually gauge the risk in places like Iraq, and yes other places like Kosovo and Kuwait arguably do not deserve combat pay and tax benefits. A bigger problem from my perspective is that all you had to do to get the combat tax benefit for the entire month is spend 48 hours in country. Fly in, spend the night, fly out, and get the same benefits as those who were there the whole month.

    I think that we all need to also recognize that the combat pay and tax benefits are the only compensation that soldiers get for working 12 or more hours a day, seven days a week while deployed in a combat zone – even in Kosovo. Basically when you deploy, the hours you work each week double. Even if a soldier faces no danger, he/she is away from family and friends, living in less than desirable conditions, and putting in some really long hours. I think that some form of compensation is appropriate.

    1. But they are compensated for being away from friends and family. $2.50 per day for Family Separation Allowance (assuming they actually have dependents…singletons with no kids don’t get this; not sure about legally married gays, but I’m guessing no.)

      And I’m thinking that across the board, the hours you work may just even out. I worked a HELL of a lot more hours when I was on staff than when I was on an embedded training team. Also didn’t have to cook or do laundry 🙂

    2. Its not even 48 hours – just enter the zone and leave.

      Its kinda embarrasing admitting this but we did that in the navy with whole ships. If you’re patrolling near the border of a combat zone you just dip across the line and the whole month is tax free (which for most is the real draw – the $150 for combat pay is just icing).

  8. While they’re at it they could also eliminate the pay disparity between single and married servicemembers.

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