This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri, on November 27th 2019. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
First, is pay. Military pay is established, by law, every year in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is past each fall to fund the Department of Defense. The pay charts change every January 1st, with raises (or not) calculated by the increase in the Employment Cost Index (ECI), which is published quarterly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to reflect changes in total employment compensation. Traditionally, in August the President proposes military pay increases either based on the ECI or not, with justification, if different. Congress has the final say, and for the past several years, military pay raises have adhered to the ECI, regardless of which party was in power.
The military pay chart on this page only goes to 20 years and displays officers to the rank of colonel. The complete chart goes to four star general and increases to 40 years. This reflects basic pay only. The shaded areas reflect a normal progression in rank for an enlisted soldier and an officer. The actual pay soldiers receive is sometimes less, after deductions for social security, Medicare, federal and state income taxes, and retirement thrift savings plan, and sometimes more with additions such Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), special duty pay, hazardous duty pay, diving pay, flight pay, and more.
All military pay is paid by direct deposit to service members bank accounts, from the Defense Finance and Accounting Center in Indianapolis. Monthly pay is divided in half and paid on the 1st and the 15th of each month, unless those dates fall on a weekend or a holiday, in which case the payment is paid the day prior. Military pay is automatic, whether the soldier is in a combat zone, on leave, in the hospital, or sick in bed at home. Benefit = steady pay check. A huge difference between civilian life and military life is the soldier does not worry about keeping a job.
Pay is different for a married soldier from a single soldier. Almost 70 percent of soldiers are now married, so families are now an integral part of the Army, and the military pays the married soldier more to take care of his or her family. The extra is called Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). The amount varies according to the cost of living in each location, and increases with rank. Soldiers in ranks private through specialist receive $876 in this area (Fort Leonard Wood), $924 at Fort Polk, Louisiana, $1,056 at Fort Hood, Texas, and $1,134 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The BAH for a staff sergeant E-6 in this area is $1,038. These figures are expected in increase by around 3.2 % starting January 1st. Actual amount will be announced in mid-December. BAH is for housing the soldier’s family, if the family lives in family housing on the fort, the married soldier doesn’t get the BAH. However, on post family housing means a nice house, with all utilities and maintenance, including lawn maintenance in the summer, provided. A great deal for low ranking young couples, and most forts now offer family housing to all ranks from private up. A married soldier, who is living in the barracks, his or her family is not with them, is still paid BAH because that is for their family’s housing.
A married soldier living with his or her family on or off post, not in the barracks, is also paid Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), which is currently $369.39 for enlisted soldiers. That is the monthly cost of meals in a Dining Facility. Soldiers living in the barracks eat free in Dining Facilities. BAH and BAS are not taxed.
Pilots and aircraft crew members, paratroopers, divers, drill sergeants, recruiters, and a few others are paid extra.
A Private (slick sleeve) single soldier, who has completed initial training and has finally arrived at a permanent duty station, claiming single with one deduction for tax purposes, after all deductions will have about $780 deposited in his or her bank account on the 1st and again on the 15th of the month. If they took the airborne option and are on jump status, that will be around $835. A Specialist E-4, with over 2 years in service will have around $940 deposited each payday. These are soldiers living in the barracks (dorms) and eating in Dining Facilities.
For a married Private living with his or her family in on post family housing, claiming married with two deductions, that deposit would be around $1,020. That calculates to a take home pay of about $470 per week, which is in the $15 per hour range, but when you throw in the cost of a house, electricity, water, sewer and trash pickup, plus complete, no co pay, no deductible health care for the whole family, you’ve got to be in the $25 to $30 an hour range, which makes that married private equal to his or her civilian friends making over $50,000 a year. A married Sergeant First Class E-7 with 10 years in service, living off post around Fort Leonard Wood (bought a house), claiming married with three deductions, and having 5 percent deducted for the Thrift Savings Plan, will have about $2,415 deposited on the 1st and again on the 15th of each month. That calculates to a weekly take home pay of around $1,115 per week, plus the free health care. The money is OK.
All military health care is managed through a giant government supervised insurance company called “Tricare”. Health and dental care for an active duty service member is free in military hospitals and clinics. Health care for family members of active duty soldiers is basically the same, there are different plans for remote locations and overseas. Tricare dental insurance for the family is $30 per month regardless of the size of the family. Military retirees, who are under the age of 65, pay $297 for only themselves, or $594 annually for the family, then a co-pay of $20 per doctor visit. Military retirees over age 65 are enrolled in “Tricare for Life”, for which there is no cost, at all. No annual fees and no co-pay, and it pays everything that Medicare doesn’t. As retirees age that becomes a huge benefit. The Army has some great medical facilities and people. We were both in our early 50’s, when my wife had major spinal surgery at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver in 1995 (it’s no longer there). A large benign tumor was pressing her spinal cord and had already broken her spinal column. The doctor (neurosurgeon) who performed the surgery was a Ranger, the only doctor Ranger I ever saw. After 12 hours of surgery, he flopped on a couch beside me, and in 5 minutes explained exactly what he and his orthopedic assistant did. He went on to become Chief of Neurosurgery at Walter Reed, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and having just retired from the Army was called to help save Gabby Gifford’s life in January 2011, when she was shot in the head in Arizona. Colonel (Retired) (Doctor) James M. Ecklund.
Another great benefit in the Army, is “time off”. Every soldier gets 30 days paid vacation (leave) per year. Leave time accumulates at the rate of 2 ½ days per month, and many soldiers often accumulate more than 30 days leave before they use it, because there is plenty of time off. Soldiers, who are not training in the field or on some kind of occasional duty, are normally off from about 5:00 PM to 6:00 AM for PT (physical training). On Friday, that means they are off until Monday morning. Plus, there are three and four day weekends. In most combat units that train hard, Commanding Generals, if at all possible, designate the Friday before a holiday weekend as a “training holiday”. Most people like to get home at Christmas and in the summer, during good weather. As a result of frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, many combat units try to schedule block leaves around the Christmas/New Years holidays, and again in the summer.
The Post Exchange (the PX), is officially the Army Air Force Exchange System (AAFES). AAFES is run by the Army and the Air Force, but is a “for profit” company that competes with all the off post stores, so the prices are very close to the lowest prices off post. Every Army post has a main PX and several small annex’s, like quick stops. The Main PX is like a giant department store, on post and available to soldiers, which caters to soldier’s desires. The main PX on Fort Leonard Wood now carries several higher quality more expensive lines of clothing, desired by soldiers and their families. Profits from AAFES go to the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) fund.
The MWR office on army posts are in the business of soldier and family recreation. Bowling, golf courses, swimming pools, paint ball, gaming centers, and many more. They sell hunting and fishing permits, they rent everything from boats and trolling motors, trailers, tents, gas BBQ grills, bounce rooms, horse shoe sets to all kinds of personal athletic equipment. Fort Leonard Wood MWR rents horse stables on post for $125 per month per stable.