Small Wars Journal

I Didn't Deserve My Combat Pay

Michael Cummings, SWJ friend and co-author of On Violence, recently published an Op-Ed in The Washington Post titled, "I didn't deserve my combat pay."

BLUF. When I compare my first deployment to Afghanistan with my second deployment to Iraq, one thought remains lodged in my cerebellum: I didn't deserve my combat pay.

My first deployment, to eastern Afghanistan in 2007, sent me as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade to Korengal Valley, which Vanity Fair dubbed the "valley of death." Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, a soldier in my battalion, last year became the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since Vietnam. Twenty-four of our battalion's soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice.

We slept on cots. I roomed with eight other people. In the winter, snowmelt leaked through our roof. In the summer, temperatures routinely passed 100 degrees and our AC units would crash. It took several minutes to get hot water in the shower, if it came. Food consisted of two warm trays of heated . . . stuff, if we didn't eat MREs. A snowstorm could knock out the satellite television feed and the Internet, as one did on Super Bowl Sunday.

Much more at The Washington Post.


Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 03/30/2011 - 3:28am

I completely agree. Currently serving near Spin Boldak in Afghanistan now, but when I was in Kuwait from 2008-2009, and the only time I felt my life endangered was when I was driving to the Starbucks in Kuwait City from Arifjan on I-40. The additional pay is nice, but once you realize that there is no imminent danger, the Imminent danger pay seems like a waste of taxpayer dollars. However, If the Army's going to pay it for Kuwait, I'll be happy to take it!

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 03/25/2011 - 8:07am

Just to clarify, the offending comments were removed shortly after they were made.

Bill M.

Wed, 03/23/2011 - 11:31pm

M.L. for what it is worth I agree with your critique on the author's post. It wasn't well thought out, and was largely inaccurate. I think Bob said it best, our men and women are sacrificing a lot even when they're not being shot at(many families destroyed due to back to back deployments, and NG and reservists have lost their jobs back home), so having someone take a self righteous poke at their combat pay based on very limited experience in public is unexcusable in my book. Their combat pay is minimal, so this diatribe is senseless and simply opens up an opportunity for those who dislike the military to attack them. It should also be noted that the vast majority of Americans don't volunteer for the so called luxuries in Iraq that the author apparently enjoyed.

We have Special Forces in a lot of countries where the threat may be greater that isn't designated as a combat zone, so maybe in the end it all equals out, maybe....

I assume the admonitions against personal/character attacks are directed at me since my post was quite harsh.

A deliberate reading of my post shows that I made no such personal/character attack. I didn't accuse the author of being an idiot, however, I did say that he was making a case for himself to that effect. I specifically caveatted that statement by saying that I did not wish to make a personal judgement.

I have no idea if the author is truly an idiot or not - I'd think not - which makes it all the more puzzling why he would think to write and publish this piece.

Furthermore, asserting that someone is "making a fool" of themselves is likewise not a personal or character attack. We've all done it - yours truly included.

Candor is not the same as a personal attack. However, sometimes we do things that are stupid (I've done it numerous times), and when we do, feedback is valuable. The author, and perhaps many of the other commenters, are victims of the same Army OER system as me. That would be the OER system where sunshine is blown up your fourth point of contact every 12 months or so. The predictable result is a thin skin.

If I hurt your feelings, or offended your delicate sensibilities - too bad. Get over it, or simply ignore my comments (no law against that). Frank feedback is not the same as a personal attack, even though it may sting.

"I didn't dese… (not verified)

Wed, 03/23/2011 - 10:16am

Sounds like the U.S. Treasury should be expecting a check from the author soon returning that unearned combat pay.

notthistime (not verified)

Tue, 03/22/2011 - 5:20pm

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?

Bob's World

Tue, 03/22/2011 - 9:08am

Pay for danger is always tricky. I understand that in WWII the EIB and CIB were both introduced as a combat badge, with the CIB going to line infantrymen in greatest combat and earning one level of combat pay, while the EIB was for a lower level, such as at the company CP, and rated a lower pay. End result was that everyone was put in for the CIB so they would all rate the higher pay, and the EIB devolved into the Boy Scout skill badge it is today. Not sure if that is a true account, but it is one I read in a reliable source.

BLUF is that no amount of pay is high enough to compensate those in the hardest situations, and the pittance we currently pay is nothing we should begrudge some clerk who may be far in the rear, but is still far from home.

No one should feel guilty that they were paid too much; rather they should feel angry that our government pays those carrying the heaviest load so little.

Michael C

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 8:18pm

Just so the commenters on here know, I plan to address the rebuttals/disagreements with my article with a post on my blog next week. No need to "make a fool of myself" on here, I have my own website for that.


Mon, 03/21/2011 - 2:55pm

Spartan?!?! At the Hot Gates, Leonidas slept with the Lacedaemonians on the ground with his helmet for a pillow and rapped in his cloak. And Spartans ate barley, cheese, onions and salted meat every day.

"We slept on cots." Try sleeping on an air mattress for 9 months straight.

"I roomed with eight other people." In previous conflicts, Soldiers "roomed" with 40 other comrades in a 360 degree NDP in the jungle.

"In the winter, snowmelt leaked through our roof. In the summer, temperatures routinely passed 100 degrees and our AC units would crash." Roofs and AC units are luxuries your country provides you so you don't suffer 'le cafard' and blow your brains out like an REI legionnaire doing stability operations in 1870 Algeria.

"Food consisted of two warm trays of heated . . . stuff, if we didnt eat MREs." Hot chow twice a day and plenty of MREs is not Spartan: C-Rats and B-Rats are.

"A snowstorm could knock out the satellite television feed and the Internet, as one did on Super Bowl Sunday." Satellite TV and the internet: does the author have any idea the cost and bandwidth consumption of MWR support on remote locations. Reading books and letter writing are spartan.

"In short, conditions were spartan." Not even close; conditions were austere by the standards of the post 9/11 military but nothing close to what previous generations had to endure from Valley Forge to Hamburger Hill.

And just maybe, if conditions were worse on the COPs, OPs, and out in the AOs, we wouldn't leave our combat forces constantly forward for 15 months and would rotate them between the 'front' and the 'rear' where they could take advantage of the safety and security of the FOBs.

Your combat pay is not 'conditions based' but if you don't want your combat pay donate it to charity.

Tim Mathews (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 2:00pm

I'll weigh in once more just to pose a hypothetical question to the author:

There is a company in VBC and a company at some remote outpost in a violent valley in Afghanistan. In each unit, the CO has been either relieved or was KIA and you are given a choice as to which one to command. Which would you choose? (Suspend reality for purposes of this hypo and ignore the fact that the successor would likely be drawn from someone in theater and within the respective BDE).

I bet most of us would choose the more dangerous assignment. I bet most of us would be disappointed to take the safer deployment. I bet most would gladly trade the bonus money for the shot to lead the Soldiers who face a more imminent and more intense threat, for the opportunity to bring them back alive. So why the concern about the pay?

There are definitely issues with FOB life, but the pay issue isn't one of them.

MikeF (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 8:46am

Please limit personal/character attacks and stick to the focus of this article trying to describe/articulate/understand the distinction between two completely different combat deployments in a time when many are on multiple deployments of varying degrees and intensity.

Same Team/Same Fight

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 6:53am

Comments about the author's character are a bit much.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 03/19/2011 - 12:12pm

But what about those guys at Nellis flying combat UAV missions or the guys at Hurlburt doing PED? If people are getting combat pay at Diego Garcia and in Kuwait those hardworking video game playing (I mean UAV operating) airmen should get combat pay. Especially because they have to be able to switch on every morning and then switch off when they go home to their families at
the end of their maybe 10 hour duty day.

Perhaps adjusting "combat/ hazardous duty" pay for those outside the immediate combat zone (Kuwait, Qatar, Diego Garcia, etc..) may be worth considering.

As for "fobbits" in Iraq or Afghanistan, agreed. Indirect fire can land anywhere.

I guess the poor guys who got blown up just before Christmas, 2004 in the FOB Mosul dining facility don't deserve combat pay, either? Maybe just death benefits?

I don't wish to pass judgement on the author as an individual, but he is certainly making a good case for himself as an idiot by publishing this piece.

I've got news for this guy: If he was in Iraq late last year (as his article suggests), then he was doing draw down stuff. This explains the relative quiet.

I was in Iraq during "The Surge." Back then Iraq was a bad version of the wild west, and everyone was in danger, including the people on the FOB. It's called indirect fire: mortars, rockets, etc... The "fobbits" weren't as exposed as infantryman for sure, but the danger was still very real - for everyone.

Some people are more exposed to danger than others, but the reality is that we pay people based on skills and experience, not proximity to danger.

Furthermore, does the author really think that Congress is going to take this benefit away, even if it's only from a few Soldiers? Balance the budget by taking away combat pay and combat tax exemptions? Is the author living in a different political universe than the rest of us?

This author is making a fool of himself.

"Put the laptop down and take two steps back with your hands in the air. Don't do anything you will regret, sir."

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 03/19/2011 - 11:00am

I guess we need to update Shakespeare...

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named [<strong>so long as he got combat pay</strong>],
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars [<strong>and his LES</strong>],
And say, "These wounds I had on Crispian's day."
[<strong>And say, "This money I earned on Crispian's day."</strong>]
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day [<strong>and what money he was paid</strong>]. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
[<strong>Be in their bank accounts accruing interest.</strong>]
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me [<strong>and gets his combat pay</strong>]
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here [<strong>to earn their extra cash</strong>],
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That [<strong>were paid to have</strong>] fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Tim Mathews (not verified)

Fri, 03/18/2011 - 8:00pm

Wait a minute. What is the significance of the pay? I didn't do it for the money and I don't know anyone else who did - whether they were at the tip of the spear or the end of the shaft.

I was fortunate to have served the bulk of my combat deployments in austere conditions where showers were a monthly or bi-monthly event, rather than a nightly or weekly event; where enemy contact was daily or weekly, rather than monthly or quarterly; where the food was MRE, t-ration, or something served by the local Sheikh.

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?