A recent Army Times article published online asked What Problems Should SMA Tackle Next?” In just his first 10 months on the job, while listening to suggestions from soldiers—and acting on them, he’s helped reverse the Army’s unpopular tattoo policy, got the OK for soldiers to wear black socks during PT, and now he’s pushing to have every soldier in the Army ready to deploy when needed.

ISSUE

With more than $103 million worth of food stamps being spent at military commissaries during fiscal year 2013 and more than $84 million worth of food stamps in fiscal year 2014, we should look at ways to close the pay equity gap between officers and enlisted soldiers.

DISCUSSION

Choosing to tackle and solve this problem and accomplish this goal would be lofty, difficult, and perplexingly complicated, but as an active duty senior NCO, yearning to effect change, with a SMA who is doing just that, while listening and acting upon suggestions, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to suggest.

With the nearly $20 million spending decrease from FY’13 to FY’14 it’s challenging to explain rather a pay increase or the total number of active duty service members better attributes to the statistics since the military has been drastically reducing its force while also providing a 1.0% pay increase. I also cannot explain what percentage of active duty soldiers families contributed to the amount of food stamps spent versus retirees and others who shop at commissaries.

This should be a bipartisan agreed upon issue not only amongst legislators but between officer and enlisted soldiers and leaders as well. Soldiers and their families, who sacrifice much while asking for little in return, (we don’t do it for the money) having to survive on food stamps and other government subsidies is only one reason to fix the military pay gap.

With the current structure of the military pay scale, enlisted soldiers top out at the rank and/or pay grade of Sergeant Major/E-9. As a Sergeant Major in the Army, there are varying degrees of duties, roles, and responsibilities that typically range from Battalion Command Sergeant Major (CSM) to Brigade CSM, to Division CSM, to Corps CSM, up to Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA). Although each duty position represents an increased degree of duties, roles, and responsibilities, all are the same rank, and pay grade, and thus all earn the same amount of pay depending on time in service.

A Battalion CSM can usually represent up to about 800 soldiers and is the Battalion Commanders most important and senior advisor, usually with more experience than any other person in the Battalion with a plethora of other roles and responsibilities. A Brigade CSM can represent up to 4,500 soldiers, Division up to 18,000 soldiers, Corps between 50,000 to 100,000 soldiers, while SMA represents the entire Army, but all are paid the same.



On the other side, a Battalion Commander, usually an O-5/Lieutenant Colonel, receives a pay increase when he/she becomes a Brigade Commander (O-6/Colonel) and again as Division Commander (O7 or O-8/ Brigadier or Major General), Corps Commander (O-9/Lieutenant General), up to a Major Command Commander or Chief of Staff of the Army (O-10/General). It should be noted that basic pay for an O-7 to O-10 is limited by Level II of the Executive Schedule which is $15,125.10.  Basic pay for O-6 and below is limited by Level V of the Executive Schedule which is $12,391.80. While serving as Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff/Vice Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, Chief of Navy Operations, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Army/Air Force Chief of Staff, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, or Commander of a unified or specified combatant command, basic pay is $21,147.30. There are no special pay incentives delineating the separate levels of Sergeants Major.

While it’s easy to argue why officers deserve to be paid more, and I’m not saying it should be equal, that’s not what this article is about. I will state however, that one of the reasons for justification usually hinges on college education. And while it’s not yet a requirement for enlisted leaders seeking promotion to obtain a college degree, it is “strongly recommended.” And I lot have done so, while serving, I might add. But I digress.

Recommendation

In Regards to Soldiers Struggling on Food Stamps

When the military receives its annual pay increase percentage, instead of applying that percentage to the entire force, only apply it to enlisted soldiers pay. Not every year obviously, maybe at a 3 year to 1 ratio or something similar.

After the annual reports of food stamps spent at commissaries is produced each year, take that money out of the SNAP program allotment and add it to the military pay scale, aimed at lower enlisted soldiers and retirees.

Implementing this or something similar, would provide a bigger pay bump to those struggling the most, helping them move towards being above the poverty line and maybe not having to rely on food stamps and other government subsidies. Doing this would also not only improve morale and economic stability for the struggling soldier and his/her family, it may also help trigger growth to the overall economy as well, but most importantly, it would greatly improve unit readiness as we prepare for our follow on mission.

On the Other End of the Enlisted Spectrum

Provide separate pay grades, or some other sort of denotation, to represent the increasing levels of duties, roles, and responsibilities of Sergeants Major, with increased pay commensurate of each.

Like I stated in the beginning, choosing to tackle and solve this problem and accomplishing this goal would be a lofty, difficult, and perplexingly complicated. Accomplishing both simultaneously only exacerbates the difficulty and may even be impossible, and I know SMA Dailey does not control what we are paid, but accomplishing lofty, difficult, and perplexingly complicated goals is exactly what soldiers and leaders in the greatest military the world has ever known, do.

Photo by USACGSC

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