WASHINGTON — Top defense officials were to meet Thursday to discuss trimming the list of countries where servicemembers’ paychecks are pumped up by imminent danger pay.
The officials were considering eliminating imminent danger pay in 18 countries and five waterways around the world that military officials believe may no longer be hazardous enough to warrant the extra pay. According to a Wednesday report from The Associated Press, that could affect up to 56,000 troops who serve in, sail through or fly over designated danger zones, saving the department $120 million annually.
A defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter cautioned that no decision has been made to eliminate danger pay, which amounts to $7.50 a day, or a maximum of $225 a month, in designated countries.
It would be the second cost-cutting move related to danger pay in just over a year. Last February, the Defense Department began prorating danger pay by the day — instead of paying the full monthly amount for even one day in a designated country — to save up to $30 million annually.
The move isn’t sitting well with some in the military.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon McGowan has been stationed in Bahrain for the past two months. He is married, but his wife did not accompany him to Bahrain.
“If stuff goes down, we have two minutes before the missiles hit here,” McGowan said. “It really is imminent danger if something really does happen in the region. “It’s not necessarily that you are getting shot at everyday, but we’re in an area where you don’t know who’s friendly and who’s not.”
He added that the money is an added “incentive” to taking an assignment in Bahrain.
“It does impact your life. It definitely changes things for a lot people the way their lifestyle.”
Some Fort Bragg, N.C., soldiers told the Fayetteville Observer that cutting the pay would demoralize troops who already sacrifice much during deployments, no matter where they’re sent.
“It’s really a slap in the face,” said one Special Forces major.
While people don’t join the military for combat pay, he said, “they do expect that pay. The savings as to personal benefits is a horrendous mistake. The [Department of Defense] trying to save money at the expense of the service member is a mistake.”
James Bratcher, 65, served 22 years in the Air Force. His military career included two tours of duty in Vietnam.
“I think a person serving over in that theater (the Middle East) should be paid danger pay,” Bratcher told the Observer. “I think it would be an injustice to a person serving” to eliminate the stipend.
“How long they stay in the military is dependent on their pay,” he said.
Crystal Jarrett, 35, is an assistant manager at Troopers Military Supply in Fayetteville, and the wife of a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division. Her husband has deployed three times.
Danger pay “was a big part (of his pay) when he would come back and pay off any outstanding bills,” she said. “Also, when he came back, and I had a new baby.”
Military officials have argued that if a location is safe enough for servicemembers to bring their families with them, such as Bahrain, the location does not merit extra danger pay, The Associated Press reported.
Troops receive imminent danger pay in nearly 50 nations, according to a list compiled by the Pentagon in 2011. In addition to war zones, the 2011 list included countries such as Cuba, Djibouti, Serbia, Turkey and Jordan.
Danger pay could be affected for some countries in the Middle East, but not anywhere U.S. troops are carrying out combat operations. But officials would not speculate on which countries are most likely to be removed from the list.
“The Department is currently in the process of reviewing Imminent Danger Pay for our servicemembers,” a defense official said in an emailed statement. "However, it would be inappropriate at this time to discuss any possible changes before they are finalized."
Stars and Stripes’ Hendrick Simoes contributed to this report.