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On Combat Pays and Imminent Dangers: Our Response to the Responses to “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay”

You can’t title an op-ed, “I didn’t deserve my combat pay” and not get a huge reaction.

Michael C’s article two weeks ago got that huge reaction.

Most of the responses were overwhelmingly positive. Over 700 people recommended the article on Facebook, at least one Pullitzer prize winner sent us congratulations, and dozens of readers emailed us heart touching stories. The article was also picked up by several newspapers around the country, including the Stars and Stripes and Small Wars Journal. All in all, not too shabby.

But judging by the comment sections below the articles, some people weren’t so into it. The great thing about blogging is you always get the last word, so today I’m addressing the five biggest criticisms of our op-ed, “I Didn’t Deserve My Combat Pay”.

1. Return the pay or donate it to charity. The typical response came from Dave in VA: “Did you make any effort to return it, and if that option wasn’t available, did you donate it to Wounded Warriors?” Or Vince: “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.” This response, or some variation thereof, must have come up at least 20 times. Unfortunately, as soon as I got back from Iraq, I bought a 72 inch big screen, a new shiny red Ford F-550 with spinners, and vacationed in the Maldives for a week, so I can’t afford to return the money.

Actually, regular readers of On Violence should know that I myself gave to, and advocated for giving to, charity as soon as I landed in Iraq. I believe in the mission of PUSH America, the philanthropy of Pi Kappa Phi. It helps people with disabilities all over America--including veterans--improve their lives. Check it out.

2. Don’t take the pay of those who deploy. One person commented, “this is a policy that no one should split hairs on. Deserving is crossing the line by going into a war zone and that alone is worth the additional dollars.” I think this criticism misses the larger point of the article: describing my experience deploying into two different areas, both as a frontline soldier and the second as a FOBbit. That personal experience inspired me to research/investigate/question the idea that a “one-size fits-all” pay system makes sense for the post-9/11 military.

To be clear, I don’t think we should take any soldier’s pay, but many people probably deserve more. That’s a tough point to communicate in 800 words (and I blew past the 750 word limit of the Washington Post, and I’m grateful they let me do that).

3. Virtually no one criticized my three main points or their solutions. This rebuttal article at the Daily Caller almost entirely ignored the three major abuses I pointed out: paying combat pay by month not prorated by day, paying pilots landing in air fields that largely are not under fire, and paying combat pay in the various Middle Eastern deployments--Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain--that aren’t active war zones. I think the Pentagon should look at the distribution of combat pay to reward combat deployments, and not deployments to combat-free zones.

4. One team, one fight, one pay. For example, here. I’ll let Eric C handle this: “If you pay everyone the same, you are saying that this guy:



...deserves the same pay as this guy:



The first is an overweight soldier carrying pizzas boxes; the second is a guy who didn’t have time to put his pants on before a firefight. See what Michael C said above about a one-size-fits-all system. No one--in Iraq or Afghanistan--deserves less; some just deserve more.

5. Soldiers don’t deploy for the pay. Commenter Tim M. at the SWJ proposed this hypothetical:

“Given the following offers...
a) another of those deployments, with ZERO bonus money
b) a deployment in the plush VBC with ALL bonus money
... I would take (a), every time, without hesitation. Combat pay? Who cares”

He then asked which I would take. Easy, I would take the deployment where I could do military intelligence. And if I had a preference, I would be an intelligence analyst at the lowest level possible that could have the greatest influence on the fight, most likely at a maneuver battalion. The deployment money would have nothing to do with it, as he hints.

But this point is also irrelevant. Commenters can pretend deployment money is irrelevant, but that doesn’t explain the people's absolute outrage at the very mention that someone would take some or any of their pay. The Army has deployment pay for a reason, to encourage deployments.

Tomorrow, we will address the quick hits of some other criticisms.

two comments

The oddest response to me is the first one. I don’t think it passes the “What-if-the-other-side-said-this?” test. As in, if a Wisconsin Union member wrote an op-ed with the same title, a lot less conservatives would ask him if he gave it back as applauding his honesty.

But we should clarify, most of the responses were very positive.


If only this follow up to piece was run as a response, pictures and all.