Is military pay sustainable? Is it time for a cut?

Friday’s Last Word: Pull Pin, Throw Grenade, Run Away: A provocative thought to kick off the weekend…

Image courtesy of Defense Imagery & Video Distribution System and Montana NG Public Affairs. Image courtesy of Defense Imagery & Video Distribution System and Montana NG Public Affairs.

In 2012, Time magazine noted a Congressional Budget Office report (critical selection available here) that found in 1980 it cost $57,000 to field a troop (all services combined) – and by 2010 that same figure had “ballooned” to $217,000 – not including inflation.

I’ll probably write more on this in the coming weeks – but it’s worth considering – is it time for a pay cut?  Are service members, above the lower enlisted ranks, paid too much?  Is current pay structure sustainable for the force structure we would like to have in 5, 10, 20 years?

Image courtesy of CBO and Time. Image courtesy of CBO and Time.

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

1 thought on “Is military pay sustainable? Is it time for a cut?”

  1. MAJ Cavanaugh – I would suggest you revisit the distribution of personnel, by grade, in posing the question, "Are service members, above the lower enlisted ranks, paid too much?" If you consider E-5 as the upper limit of "lower enlisted", then you are suggesting that reducing the pay and benefits of a mere 27% of the force (personnel in grades E-6 through O-10) could contain the ever rising personnel costs sufficiently to keep the AVF sustainable.

    I would suggest to go back and review the history of the AVF from Nixon’s Special Message to Congress forward. What you will find is that massive pay and benefit increases were committed to personnel in their first two years of service as compared to the rest of the force. Then look at the significant change in housing allowances for the lower grades since 1970. In short, the huge personnel account since 1970 is significantly more a result of the increase in pay to personnel in their first two to four years of service than higher grades. The objective was to make recruiting and retention in an all volunteer force manageable via attractive wage and benefit packages.

    I am not condemning the junior ranks for the current quandary. Having served from 1960 through 1995, I experienced the significant increase in compensation provided to the junior ranks in 1970 and later. It is just that the lower ranks were targeted, by ppolicy, for greater pay and benefit increases, and they make up a major portion of the force. For example, in 1967, an E-2 under two years, with two dependents, received $1,946.43 (constant 2014 dollars) in pay, housing and meals. In 2014, that same E-2, stationed at Ft Hood, TX (a relatively low BAH post) will receive $3241.45. A 67% increase in cost which was pretty much applied to pay grades E-1 through E-3, or 21% of the Army. The remainder of the ranks have been raised some 25% in constant 2014 dollars as compared to 1967, some of which was a result of the maintaining wage differentials following the upward push in lower pay grade wages.

    In short, the direction set in 1970 by Nixon’s AVF, coupled with the introduction of BAH, has pretty much priced the personnel account out of the business. Cuts are going to have to be made across the force, and, of course, there is no way to tell what effect that will have on recruiting and retention.

    I remember discussing this with two COLs back in 1970. Both predicted today’s dilemma, and that was without BAH.

    Like

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