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Updated: Michael C's Washington Post Op-ed: I Didn't Deserve My Combat Pay

Quick heads up:

Michael C just had an op-ed published today at the Washington Post, titled "I Didn't Deserve My Combat Pay."

Check it out.

Thank you to Stars and Stripes, The Lincoln Journal Star, Bangor Daily News, The Delaware Online, The Oregonian and The Charlotte Sun for reprinting the Op-ed.

If we see interesting responses to Michael C's post, we'll probably post them here. Like this one, from the forum on the Military Times.


We got a Small Wars Journal shout out today as well. Check it out here.

Another forum tackles Michael C's op-ed here. A mostly good discussion, I feel we should clarify: Michael C was an infantry officer.

Just found a post by Richard Morris, an author, responding to Michael C's piece with his own memories from Vietnam.

The WaPo ran a letter responding to Michael C's Op-ed.

Check out this comment thread at gatorsports. It supports what Michael C wrote.

The Daily Caller has a response piece, titled "I Deserved My Combat Pay" by Paul Hair. We'll respond on Monday.

And another forum, run by The Baltimore Sun, with some feedback...


This is not the place to cut costs. Tax the rich at higher rates. It’s their friends in high places war anyway.

That’s your opinion, but at least be honest. Bahrain, much like Korea for Army soldiers, has always been an overseas deployment location where Navy personnel could bring family members. The DoD found Bahrain to be a prized location since it is fairly close to the action and we have a relationship with the host country.

You say you didn’t deserve your combat pay. Did you make any effort return it, and if that option wasn’t available, did you donate it to Wounded Warriors?

Having served two tours in Iraq I have to disagree with the author 100% on this. Although many soldiers, marines, airmen and even sailors don’t leave the confines of their plush FOB’s they can still be in harms way on a daily basis. For example, LSA Anaconda in Balad is one of the largest bases in Iraq. It has everything a soldier could want while in a combat zone but, this LSA was subjected to daily mortar and rocket attacks. So were the soldiers there that didn’t go outside the wire any less deserving of combat pay? Heck no! Anyone of them could have gotten killed or wounded on a daily basis just walking to the chow hall or the pool. Yes, most were lucky enough not to have had a mortar or a rocket fall on top of them but others were not. There are numerous cases of where soldiers who never left the wire were killed or wounded on their plush FOB or LSA. The soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors that serve all earn their combat pay whether or not the author feels he did. It takes a special person to volunteer to serve and then blindly go into a situation where he or she may be killed or wounded at any time. These special people earn every darn penny just by raising their right hand and saying “send me” instead of you or your own kid. So I’m sorry the author feels he didn’t deserve his combat pay but I’m very sure he did, one way or another.

Your opinion piece is well-written and thought-provoking. I have just one observation, a technical one: You’ve never been a pay clerk. The combat pay rules & reguations are admittedly a broad-sweep covering a lot of areas. But trying to apply the pay on a day-by-day, location-by-location, mission-by-mission basis would be Herculean. Not to mention fielding the thousands of “what about my…..” From years of experience I know how that nitty-gritty end of the policy business works. Yours is an easy suggestion to make until one gets down to applying the suggestion to each and every individual on a person-by-person basis. Only someone who has never been a pay clerk would think it’s easy.

Perhaps the author has felt like he didn’t “earn” that combat pay because he was on a FOB (Camp Victory is more like a city, but still had periodic indirect fire attacks in 2010), while the young kids were dealing with fear and violence every time they went outside the wire. As a much-travelled Iraq-Kuwait-Afghanistan fobbit myself, it occured to me often that, although I’ve encountered more enemy fire than 99 less than some of the E3s and E4s I shared tents with in those FOBs. There is a significant difference between being mortared on a FOB and rolling out the gate on mounted or foot patrols. Perhaps we should have two levels of combat pay – “Fobbit” and “Outside-The-Wire”.
But it wouldn’t make any difference in terms of real money spent (i.e. $1 – $2 Billion PER WEEK betw. OIF and OEF!), so why worry about pennies when we need to save dollars.
Instead, why don’t you give your combat pay to USO, Wounded Warriors, or some other organization that helps combat veterans. That’s how many of us addressed this issue of conscience or fairness.

As an Air Force reservist, my brother receives combat pay for merely flying over Afghanistan or Iraq in cargo AC130’s without ever having to land in either country. I think the same sentiment applies to Michael’s article.

To say that everyone who serves overseas deserves combat pay is basically saying the soldier who fight on the front lines in daily battles—like Restrepo—only deserve a piece of medal attached to a ribbon for their sacrifices.

Well put post.

@Russ Wellen- Well the pay for soldiers might not be the place to cut costs, but DoD could certainly cut some costs.

@Don- But correct me if I am wrong, but soldiers deployed to Korea haven’t gotten combat pay or CZTE since the Korean war. That is the problem making combat pay the same for a troop in Bahrain as a guy in Helmand or the Korengal

@Dave and anyone else with his line of thinking— Yes, while I was in Iraq. I recommend PUSH America, the philanthropic organization of Pi Kappa Phi, that helps all people with disabilities, including veterans.

@ Patrick Ackerson- We’ll agree to disagree. I just can’t say that soldiers in Balad, where I spent some time, deserve the same as guys whose units will end a tour with 100% purple hearts. Yes soldiers in Balad deserve something, I agree with that, but for that quartermaster company that didn’t get a single purple heart, that doesn’t seem fair.

@Jim- Yep I have never been a finance clerk. And I obviously realize that trying to make a combat pay system that equitably serves every deployed soldier in the entire army is darn near impossible. And obvsiously, we don’t want to make more work than we have to. Still, the point remains that certain policies make no sense (like the ones for general officers).

@Vince- I think I responded to most of your points in different parts. You are right about cents versus dollars, but I think it does add up.

@Matty P- And I don’t mean to disparage Air Force personnel. They clearly serve their country, and we have a mutual friend who has sacrificed as much as I have by deploying to Manas. But certain entitlements make up for that like CZTE and family separation pay. Combat though? I don’t know.

@Scott- Thanks for the support.

Just an observation, but a lot of Marine families are either at or below the poverty level. For some of those getting combat pay while never seeing combat, that money may make a huge difference. Of course, maybe soldiers should be paid more considering how much contractors in Iraq are being paid.

On my last deployment, my Soldiers received demo pay for a month if they used their demolition skills in a tactical environment (so not training) in that time period. The pay mechanism seemed to work there and there are other pay incentives that require monthly or quarterly action (jump pay is a good example). I think Michael C is spot on.

I don’t think that military pay should be off limits with all the other cuts going on. Service members would still get some extra compensation while deployed- but some of the incentives should be scaled based on their actual combat experience.

It’s amazing how little has changed since the 1960s. I served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam (C/3/503) and lived like the grunts in the movie Platoon. Hating the infantry I extended twice in Vietnam for 6 months to go to Nha Trang as a helicopter door gunner in a Corps Headquarters unit. There was a big city, a nice beach and maid service in the barracks. Due to a non-combat helicopter accident we had as many deaths as in my former infantry unit, and we were subjected to mortar attacks from time to time. General Westmoreland eventually required general officers traveling to Vietnam to get clearance from him personally to avoid visits to qualify for combat pay ($65 for enlisted, $110 for officers) and for a month of tax-free salary. In the 70s I flew as an AF Reserve flight engineer on C-141s. All we had to do to qualify for combat pay was enter the South Vietnam ADIZ (Air Defense Intercept Zone), and we did so regularly flying from the Philippines to our eight air bases in Thailand. In 1968 our soldiers in South Korea stationed north of the Imjin River on the DMZ drew combat pay due to the hostile environment there around the time of the seizure of the USS Pueblo by North Korea and the shooting down of an EC-121 electronic surveillance plane off the North Korean coast.

Your BLOG is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

This is definitely something that needs to be reviewed, but real change will be tremendously difficult to implement for two reasons: 1) It is a sore subject for FOBits, staffers, and other senior officers who are closer to the decision making loop (meaning there is no motivation for the folks who have the power to change this); 2) There is actually a huge (and somewhat continuous) gradient of experiences that all receive this incentive (one could definitely find two examples that are both fairly dangerous, but one is significantly more so than the other).

This last point will be a real hang-up. Finding objective criteria to base the incentive pay on will be difficult to establish, although I do like the “if you have to wear body armor” take. I also really like the whole pro-rated pay for combat-zone tourists.

One thing that wasn’t really addressed is the morale impact this one-size-fits-all incentive approach can have. A friend of mine who was a USMC machine gunner in Falluja hates it when people ask him if he was “in Iraq.” His response is “EVERYONE has been to Iraq.” Basically, he feels that thousands of people “go to Iraq” and never have to deal with anything dangerous and get lumped into the same category as him and his buddy’s. This is a group of guys who suffered tremendously and watched good friends killed in front of them. A very different experience from the majority (yes, I believe it is the majority) of people that serve in a combat zone. This is pretty demoralizing for the folks really putting their asses on the line.

For full disclosure, I spent a year “in Iraq” where about 90% of my time was in FOBbit land (VBC) in 2006. I did go out on helos and convoys, but a majority of time I had the typical baseline IDF risk that most in-the-wire folks face (pretty much minimal, but scary for anyone who hasn’t done anything more dangerous).

Congrads! Maybe we could use the stimulus money to pay for RFID ammo for the enemy and whenever one whizzes by you get a bonus like in Mario Brothers. Otherwise, I’m not sure how the structure could be modified.

Combat Pay and Combat Zone Tax Free incentive are part of the cost of waging war. If you don’t like it, tell Congress and the President to bring our guys home. I love it that war is expensive. And I’d love it if a smart Congressman passed an increase to combat pay and made it 500 a month. Then it will be even more expensive to wage war, and perhaps make our leaders pause before initiating military action. And Mike, consider yourself lucky that the enemy didn’t lob rockets into your base on a daily basis like they did at my base! And stop Whining!

I’m a Senior NCO in a combat MOS that has deployed to Iraq four times. To say that a Soldier doesn’t deserve hostile fire pay because of his living conditions just doesn’t make sense. I was in Baghdad in 2006 and FOB Rusty had some pretty good amenities. However, that didn’t keep the snipers, rockets, and IEDs from taking lives. In 08-09 I lived on a JSS in Samawah that had nothing, much like the conditions you described in Afghanistan, but at least it was semi-peaceful. Currently I’m back in Iraq on a half way decent COS. My current job doesn’t require me to go “out the wire”. But the enemy still gets a vote and often that vote entails sending a rocket or two on the COS. Bottom line is that from 2003-2011 I’ve seen the best and the worst. No matter where I was at or what was going on my Soldiers earned every cent of their pay. As far as Airmen and Generals, I’m not in a position to speak for them. I’m talking about the Soldier. If you don’t think you earned your pay, fine, give it back. But don’t assume that others, regardless of where they live or what they do, aren’t earning theirs.


It’s interesting how your Op-Ed was perceived. I interpreted the writing as using the combat pay issue to describe/capture/articulate how you FELT about the distinction between two separate deployments rather than you actually THOUGHT combat pay should go away for some.

Good discussion from all sides particularly on the caution that some congressional aides would use this as an excuse to take away from the military- they do it every several years with West Point as well.

I’d be interested for you to respond on this blog with your intent for writing such a provocative piece.

@ Mike F- We plan to address the responses next Monday. That should give us enough time to gauge the reactions. I mean, on one hand, any opinion piece/academic article is going to have people who disagree, sometimes vehemently. But this piece definitly garnered a (unsurprising) reaction from some sectors and we will address that next week.

We find it better to address comments in full post form, with only light management of the comments. One thing I noticed about the SWJ comments is that the most virulent/personal attacks came from anonymous sources. I don’t care if you want to criticize my rhetoric or personal opinion, but use your name, and don’t insult my leadership if you don’t know me.

Also my guys in the 173rd to a man have loved the article, that has to mean something.

@ColeF- First, my primary criticism is the places that are ridiculous downrange: Generals on battlefield tours (keep in mind we haven’t lost a single general in this war, that means something), pilots 20,000 feet overhead, and non-combat zones collecting hazardous duty/imminent danger pay.

I’ll address this next week, but the main argument isn’t to take pay from anyone. It is to reward the guys who are in companies that get 50% purple hearts. Really is the combat there the same as Bahrain?

My bro made the half sarcastic comment, but it stands, that he has never heard so many conservatives endorse socialist/communist/unlibertarian ideals in his life. I mean, to say we pay everyone the same, regardless of performance or danger, isn’t that ultimate equality?

Out- Obviously you have a viewpoint that clashes with the majority of our readers. But I am not against increasing combat pay, absolutely we should do that.

@Harrison- Yeah I will address that next week. Some dissenters have argued I didn’t flesh out my solution enough. Well 1. At least I provided one and 2. try doing that in a 750 word limit (that we still blew by, but the WaPo was generous and ran it anyways).

I am at work but I will try to address the other comments later.

@Tim B- Your comment sums up a lot of really good points. I don’t have much to add, but I agree that since staffs and FOBbits tend to make decisions, the odds of change are remote and unlikely.

@Will M- I think the war in Afghanistan has a ton of similarities with Vietnam. The fact that Generals act the same doesn’t surprise me too much.

@Redford- Well soldiers and marines and all troops just need to be paid above the poverty level. Deployment shouldn’t have anything to do with that.

Isn’t this sorta like expending all your training rounds just in case your higher ups decide to audit how much ammo your platoon actually needs? You get combat pay just in case?

Actually, we wrote a post a while back addressing units wasting government ammo. We’ll get to it next week, but the larger point is that everything in the Army/Military should be on the table. We need to totally revamp the Army pay system to bring it inline with the 21st century, let alone the end of the 20th. Combat pay should be in that discussion.

But the Army wastes a lot in general. Is combat pay the biggest waste? Hellz nah. But it is a waste. Like an alcoholic, the Army’s brass needs to admit it has a problem, and congress is the enabler.

The author left out all the BS “conferences” attended by those officers, GS-100s and spoiled enlisted stationed stateside. These coddling experiments are the closest some will ever come to war and at the cost of taxpayers. Besides, why can’t they use their overly expensive and excessive amounts of video conferencing suites and $500 Herman Miller chairs to work smarter like other adults?

I’ll get into this next week, but some have thrown out the argument that pay is a minor slice of the pie. Combat pay (technically Imminent Danger Pay or Hazardous Duty Pay) might be small, but the military spends more on people than it does on anything else. Personnel costs are a huge part of the budget.

whatever brings up good examples of small budget things that get multiplied over time.