April 13, 2004


Andrew Sullivan got an email from the sister of a career NCO. His view of the war is decidedly pessimistic, as is his view of the future of the Army.

My recurring disclaimer: I am not in the Army. That said, I think that one paragraph in this email is based on her brother's guesses; as a warblogger, I have a differerent view based on things I've read.

His most pessimistic views were reserved for the future of the US military, especially the Army and the reserve forces. The Army's longterm morale appears to be at severe risk due to its being so overstretched. Re-enlistments by the very backbone of the Army (senior NCO's and Officers) are going to start dropping like a rock unless the situation changes in the estimation of my brother. This is doubly the case with the Reservists, upon whom the military has become so dependent. In addition, our military personnel are terribly underpaid given the missions that they are called upon to fulfill during this wartime era. Many military families live at near subsistence level incomes, are required to make huge sacrifices in terms of risk to loved ones and constantly having to move, and struggle to make ends meet.

I agree that morale is probably not as high as it was during the late 90's, when no one in the Army had to do much except train, but I know of a lot of soldiers who are proud and eager to be deployed. I know of one on rear detachment who is positively livid that they've left him here. Some soldiers really do want to soldier; that's why they took the job in the first place.

As for re-enlistment, so far it has been steady. Our gut reaction is that no one would willingly sign up to do such a nasty job, but the military is right on track for the enlistment goal at this time of year.

And, yes, all soldiers are "terribly underpaid" when you consider that they're on call 24 hours a day for a year. But, as I linked to the other day, military pay is something that is more nuanced than it appears.

Even in their first year of service, E-4s pull in more than $18,600 per annum, and more than $19,600 in their second year of service, and that's in base pay. Throw in BAH Type II for a married soldier (assuming 0 differentials. He earns more money if he has children) and he's really making $25,887 per year in his second year of service.

The military pay scale is all laid out for you here.

Except that while he's deployed, he's also getting hostile fire pay ($3,000 per year), family separation pay ($3,000 per year) and an allowance for per diem expenses of 3.50 per day, or 1,277.50 per year. So now we're up to $33,164.50.

But money earned in a combat zone is exempt from federal income tax. So assuming the soldier's in the 15% tax bracket, that income yields an after-tax equivalent of $38,139.18 per year.

And we haven't even figured in the value of free food for the soldier while he's deployed, or free medical care for the soldier's dependents.

So Ehrenreich's $16,000 per year figure--while not far off the mark if the soldier's a screw-up and doesn't get promoted and you only count base pay--is wildly inaccurate when it's vetted by someone who actually knows what he's doing.

And the LT? The first year 2nd Lieutenant while deployed in Iraq, makes an after-tax equivalent of $61,462.67 (somewhat less than that, actually, because he's in a marginal 15% bracket, not an effective one. But you get the idea.)

Where ELSE can you be 19-24 years old and pull in that kind of salary?

Yes, we military families make sacrifices. No, we don't want anyone to have to be deployed for a year. But a soldier's job is to soldier, and a military family's job is to be supportive of the mission. Many of us understand what that means and the sacrifices it takes -- we know about deployments and the pay scale when we sign up -- but the rewards of supporting and defending our country outweigh the grievances.

Posted by: Sarah at 11:11 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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1 Civilians, including our Congress, just don't understand that people don't join the military for the money. There is a sense of being a part of something greater than yourself that is far more important in that decision. Of course, money doesn't hurt!

Posted by: Mike at April 13, 2004 12:43 PM (cFRpq)

2 Great pay, right. Now how much is that for a 24 hours on-call, 7 day a week job; per hour? Then let me shoot at you and you can wear all that protective equipment in 100 degree weather. So I don't think war zone pay is that great.

Posted by: Marc at April 13, 2004 01:16 PM (oPIM+)

3 I served 9 years enlisted--starting at E-1--and am now in my 8th year as an officer. Never once have I complained about being underpaid. Military members are compensated adequately. (The horror stories of soldiers on food stamps are extremely rare, and nearly always involve a very young, very junior enlisted with several mouths to feed.) We don't do it for the money, but we are fortunate to be able to serve a nation worth defending, "earn a living" doing it, and attain, in most cases, modest financial stability, and often success.

Posted by: david at April 14, 2004 01:07 AM (s7Ho8)

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