On Thursday morning, I started seeing inklings that the “Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation” recommended an overhaul to combat pay to reward junior soldiers for their sacrifices. If this sounds a lot like my Washinton Post opinion piece from last year, “I didn’t deserve my combat pay” well it should. As CNN’s "Security Clearance" blog tells it:
As part of its findings, the report cited a 2011 opinion piece in the Washington Post in which Capt. Michael Cummings wrote, "I didn't deserve my combat pay."
Cummings described the living conditions at Victory Base Complex in Iraq, "The water was always warm. The chow hall had a Caesar salad bar, a sandwich bar, an ice cream freezer, and shrimp & steak Fridays. My personal room had a working air conditioning unit and internet connection. VBC hosted multiple PXs, coffee shops and nightly dance parties. I could buy pillows, microwaves, televisions or any video game."
The report (which can be found here; our quote is in the “supporting research papers”) also details a different issue regarding combat pay that I hadn’t thought of: the giant benefit of Combat Zone Tax Exclusion for high ranking officers. I hadn’t thought of this, but it furthers the main thrust of my original Op-Ed: most generals and colonels receive way more compensation (in better conditions) for deployment than junior soldiers (in the suck).
Together--because really Eric C and I write everything together no matter whose name is on the piece--we are extremely excited about this development. To borrow a California surfing term, we’re stoked.
The big question is, am I optimistic that--even after the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation agreeing with our op-ed--the Pentagon and Congress will address these important issues? I am not for four reasons:
1. Most vocal pro-military types will resist any change to military compensation if it means any troops lose money. So even though conservative Republicans champion fiscal responsibility and cutting through “Bureaucracy”, they won’t jump to support this commission’s report. Republicans will also reflexively resist any proposal coming from President Obama.
2. Democrats will avoid anything that looks like it harms troops to because of their historically (false) reputation for being weak on defense and/or hating our troops. So the minute someone accuses Democrats of “hating our soldiers”, they will back down.
3. The military hates change.
4. Officers will suffer the most from these changes. Since officers (generals) run the Pentagon, they will fight it. Further, pro-military associations--like the Association of the U.S. Army and countless others are lead by retired Generals and Colonels, who will also resist this change.
So Republicans, Democrats, current officers and retired officers will all resist changing combat pay. Basically, no one will lobby for this commission’s reports, no matter how sensible. And (prediction alert!) if no one lobbies for legislation the odds it will happen are low.
That said, we love the fact that we might have influenced the debate, even a bit. Having gotten our names in one possibly influential report, we plan in the next few weeks to try again, this time on the topic of Iran. Stay tuned.