Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.
Maybe you’d better sit down and pop a Xanax before reading any further, because what I’m about to tell you should seriously short you out: Not only is the average soldier’s salary barely life-sustaining, the combat pay of the average grunt in Afghanistan and Iraq is only $7.50 a day, or a measly $225 a month. And to make matters worse, the folks bringing up the rear – hundreds of miles from the horror show – are pulling down the same combat pay as our heroes who daily lay their lives on the line.
America was far more generous to its soldiers during World War II, when combat pay on the battlefields of Europe and Asia was 30 cents a day, or about $10 a month. Taking the rate of inflation into account, our draftee Army that whacked the Japanese and Germans received three times the hazardous-duty pay we’re currently paying our professional Army.
Since the invention of the spear and shield, grunts have always been at the bottom of the pecking order and have always gotten the shaft. The reason for this is that – with rare exceptions, when caring leaders make a point of ensuring that their fighters are treated appropriately – grunts inevitably receive the lowest priority.
Grunts not only have no union to protect them, they rarely have committed patrons concerned about their welfare. This is especially – and tragically – true today, with an all-volunteer defense force and with few Beltway politicians who’ve worn a uniform or who have kids on the killing fields. Nowadays, soldiers are considered pros who signed up to fight for our country, so they should shut up, suck it up and do what they’re being underpaid to do.
When I discussed this national shame with retired-Lt. Col. Roger Charles, U.S. Marine Corps, and president of Soldiers For The Truth, he told me, “Hack, you’ve only got it half-right.”
Then he gave me the hot skinny that his organization has been studying what’s really going down with Imminent Danger Pay in order to inform the American public and the U.S. Congress and hopefully cause change: “Combat pay is a misnomer. Today there’s no such thing as combat pay if you’re talking about extra pay that goes to those who actually trade rounds with the bad guys. Military personnel who serve in cushy posts hundreds of miles from Afghanistan and Iraq earn the same amount as those who kick in doors in Fallujah or drive fuel trucks through RPG Alley and IED Boulevard between Mosul and Baghdad.”
So I made a few phone calls. And sure enough, the guys living the good life in places like Kuwait and Qatar – for example, that bronzed, handsome lifeguard saving lives at the base pool – get the same $7.50 a day as our heroes facing the bear on the mean streets of Iraq and in the treacherous mountains of Afghanistan.
A soldier’s father reports that his son and his buddies – just back from Afghanistan – became very bitter when they went on R & R in Qatar and talked to Joes and Jills inside a fortress-like base so safe that soldiers are not authorized to carry individual weapons. And these lucky stiffs living in a relative paradise were also drawing combat pay!
Another loophole creates an even more gross inequity: Senior officers – read generals and colonels – regularly fly into Afghanistan and Iraq on monthly 48-hour useless VIP visits in order to both collect their combat pay for the entire month and rack up tax breaks that can run almost seven grand a month. Not bad doubleheaders for Perfumed Princes who can barely tell a foxhole from a bidet.
“The problem of our paying an equitable combat pay is the Pentagon’s bottom line,” says Defense Watch Editor Ed Offley (SFTT.org). “Two years ago the ink hadn’t dried on the last Imminent Danger Pay increase when the Pentagon bean counters were hustling to cut it.”
There’s more to supporting the troops than slapping a bumper sticker on the back of your wheels or occasionally flying Old Glory and feeling good about vowing to bring freedom to the world. Trust me: Making sure our valiant grunts get at least the equivalent of what the Greatest Generation received during the Big War would be far more meaningful.