Troop Strength and Chintzy Bonuses


The desperation move by the Pentagon to try and maintain U.S. troop strength by offering soldiers a re-up bonus of $10,000 give the lie to earlier assertions that were made to me by Pentagon officials last fall when I was writing about contingency planning for a return to the draft.

At that time, Army manpower officials assured me that they were having no problem with reenlistments and recruitment.

What a difference a few hundred dead soldiers, a few downed choppers, and a few months make!

The irony of course, is that if the Bush administration had had its way, that bonus being offered to soldiers to reenlist and risk their lives for another year or more in the Iraqi desert–a bonus that works out to about $3350 a year or $280 a month–would be just about the amount they would have lost in reduced combat pay. And in fact, they may still lose that much and more next year.

As I reported in In These Times and Counterpunch last November, the Bush Administration, having blown the American budget sky high with tax giveaways to the rich, tried to cut some of its costs by eliminating $150 a month in combat pay for the 130,000 soldiers in Iraq. That adds up to about $1800 a year. They also tried to eliminate another $75 per month in family allowance money paid to troops who are separated from spouses or children. If they’d gotten their way, this would have represented a $225/month pay cut for married troops in the battle zone–about $2700 a year in lost pay.

Luckily, when Congress got wind of the pay cut for the troops doing Bush’s dirty work in the desert, they nixed the deal–for this year. But the Pentagon has promised to come back with the proposed combat pay cut plan next year.

If the Bush administration were to get its way, soldiers signing up for another tour of battle duty, after collecting their bonuses, would be netting a whopping $1950 for their three-year tour of duty–less than $55 a month to put their lives on the line.

No wonder reports from the field say the grunts are laughing at the offer–and turning it down.

Paying the workers and grunts fairly has never been a strong point with this crew in Washington. These are the same folks who recently pushed through a rule change at the Department of Labor that will strip some 8 million workers of eligibility for overtime pay when they are asked to put in more than the standard 40-hour week. The same administration that also has been offering employers tips on how to avoid having to pay overtime pay to some 1.3 million lower paid workers who the same new rules were supposed to be making eligible for overtime for the first time.

It would seem to be all of a piece. President Bush, the prep school boy who grew up in a blue blood family where servants are the norm, seems to take the view that average Americans should be glad just to have a job. They should not expect to get extra pay if they have to work long hours, or get shot at.

He’s willing to use market incentives, like the re-up bonus, to get people to work for him when he has to, but he obviously is ready to take that money back out of their pockets when they’re not looking if he gets the chance. It’s a little like that plastic turkey the Commander-in-Chief carried around during his photo-op quickie visit to the airport near Baghdad at Thanksgiving–it looks good but you can’t eat it.

I don’t know about the grunts in Iraq, but if I were over there getting close to the end of my tour, and contemplating that re-up bonus, even if I were willing to put my life on the line again for the benefit of Halliburton and Exxon/Mobil, I’d still want it in writing from the brass that they wouldn’t be turning around next year and taking away my combat pay and family separation allowance.

With this administration, you really need an enforceable contract.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html



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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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