April 10, 2010:
American troops are paid very well, for a job that can make you miserable and get you killed. The U.S. Department of Defense periodically calculates the average annual pay of its enlisted troops and officers, compared to civilians (of the same age and education). Currently, enlisted troops make $13,360 more than their civilian counterparts, while officers make $24,870 more. This includes health care, retirement benefits and tax breaks.
This news is unlikely to result in a cut in military pay, even though it has gone up quite a bit in the last decade. The hardships of wartime service have caused several temporary pay increases, for things like combat pay and enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses. These have increased average compensation by over ten percent. For example, re-enlistment bonuses went from $98 million a year a decade ago, to nearly $600 million a year. These are now declining, with the sharp decline in fighting in Iraq. Housing has been upgraded and Congress has increased life insurance benefits. All this is done for the same reasons civilian organizations do it in a tough labor market. You raise pay to keep jobs filled. The Department of Defense has borrowed these analytical techniques and pay polices to keep the ranks full during wartime, the first time that has ever been achieved. The current recession caused more people to apply to join, and more troops to try and stay in. The allowed for cuts in skill bonuses. These are still paid for certain combat, intelligence, electronics and language specialties.
The higher military pay, compared to comparable civilian jobs, does not reflect the risks and stresses of combat, and the frequent duty in combat zones. There, the living conditions are often much lower than back home, and the workload higher. But 85 percent of the jobs are support, not primarily combat. These troops are exposed to less danger and discomfort than combat troops, especially infantry. Moreover, most support troops rarely leave the well protected bases. So for most troops, who don't mind some danger and discomfort, the higher pay is a pretty good deal. Which accounts for the ability of the army and marines to recruit all the people they needed in the midst of recent fighting. However, the combat troops fight for more than money. Most join for patriotic reasons, but don't mind the good pay and bonuses. And many are seeking some adventure, and they often get more of it than they expected.