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Did the Army move Fort Irwin's front gate to shortchange soldiers?

Many soldiers train at Fort Irwin, Calif., before heading downrange because the terrain is so rough and inhospitable that it easily passes for Iraq or Afghanistan. Those who’ve been there may have heard that the base front gate was moved closer to the nearest city so that soldiers would not be eligible for a special pay to compensate them for being in the middle of nowhere.

That may sound far-fetched, but considering that the U.S. government came close to halting troops’ paychecks altogether during the recent budget showdown, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. 

According to the rumor, years ago, soldiers stationed at Fort Irwin received “remote location pay” for being more than 50 miles from the nearest city, Barstow, a reader told The Rumor Doctor. That prompted the Army to move the base main gate 5 miles south so that it would be within the 50-mile limit and soldiers would no longer get the extra pay.

While Fort Irwin’s front gate has indeed been moved a few times since the late 1980s, the base’s front boundary has remained the same, said Fort Irwin spokesman John Wagstaffe.

That boundary, marked by a sign letting people know they are on the installation, is 31 miles from the nearest interstate, Wagstaffe said. The front gate, which is 5 miles beyond that, was moved and improved for security reasons.

“The first gate was a cheap little telephone booth with a guard inside it,” he said. “The one we have now is a very sophisticated anti-terrorism gate.”

But even if the front boundary were farther away from the interstate, would soldiers stationed there be eligible for “remote location pay”? The Rumor Doctor asked the Army, but they had never heard of such a special pay.

It turns out the Defense Department does offer hardship duty pay for troops living in certain spartan locales, but all of them are outside the continental United States.

The Defense Department defines those locations as places where quality-of-life conditions “are substantially below the standard most members in the continental United States would generally experience.”

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: This rumor turned out to be false, but that won’t stop The Rumor Doctor from investigating whenever he hears that troops are being shortchanged.

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