The annual negotiations about compensation for US military personnel are under way again and, as a Brit, this is a process I always find interesting. I’ve always suspected that the senior officers in the DoD tend more to be technocrats than leaders, and what’s being said around D.C. tends to support that belief. However, it’s also interesting for the differences it shows between British and US ideas about properly rewarding troops.
The Defense Department’s goal at the moment seems to be diverting cash from personnel to other areas. I can understand that. A lot of the US Army’s equipment is aging – either wearing out or just better suited to 1980s-style heavy metal against 8 Guards Army somewhere in the Fulda Gap. Money needs to be spent on replacing or upgrading gear, and on training to keep force readiness high. Is the compensation package the right place to make savings, though? I’m not so sure about that bit of the deal. The Pentagon wants to reduce housing allowances so that troops will have to take on a bigger share themselves, at the same time as the pay raise is limited to 1.3% – well below the average civilian salary increase of about 2.3%, which by law it’s supposed to match. Co-pays for medical treatment under Tricare would also increase. Overall, the Pentagon’s proposals would shave about $12 billion off the manpower budget.
There’s a risk to this, though. Nobody joins the military for the money, but more than a few have left over it. As service people get into their late 20s and early 30s, and often start raising a family, money starts to matter. Someone with ten or fifteen years’ service behind them can easily start to feel like they’ve done their bit but now it’s time to find something that lets them provide more for their kids. Watching their salary drop ever further behind civilian ones can strengthen that feeling.
From a British point of view, we’ve always envied a lot of the benefits the US military get. The GI Bill in particular looks like a great deal, and the tax waivers on operations seem pretty good too. What a lot of Brits don’t appreciate, however, is the difference in basic pay. For a while, I shared a house with a US Army Sergeant who was living in a private rental in Germany. We both wore three stripes, so I assumed we got paid pretty much the same. After a while, though, we talked about it and it turned out my salary was not far off twice as much. A lot of the difference was made up by allowances she got and I didn’t, but even so, it was thought-provoking.
Overall, I think I preferred our way of doing things in Britain. I might have had to pay more myself – a bigger contribution to housing costs, for example – but at the end of the day I had more control over my money and a lot more freedom to decide what I spent it on. Even little things; the DoD spends a lot of money subsidizing commissaries, and there’s no doubt they’re cheaper than local stores in most places. On the other hand, if there’s a German bakery right there on camp, who wants to eat two-day-old Wonder Bread from the PX? Axe the subsidy and use the money for a pay raise instead; commissary prices would go up, but troops would have more to spend if they preferred to use local shops instead.
Of course that would mean paying troops in local currency, but the British Army’s been doing that for decades; if someone’s based in Germany it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay them in US dollars, because if they spend it anywhere except on base they’re going to lose money. That’s a good deal for AAFES and the commissary, of course, but soldiers’ pay isn’t for their benefit.
The military compensation commission is looking at ways of replacing Tricare and the old retirement pay system with more up to date alternatives that give troops more control over their health care and pension benefits. This might be a good time to look at giving them more control over their cash, too.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.