RAF MILDENHALL, England — Dinner and a movie cost 1st Lt. Adam Patton and his wife, Hayley, “close to $100.”

RAF Croughton, where Patton is executive officer for the 422nd Air Base Squadron, doesn’t have a movie theater. Tickets at a British theater are 8 pounds (almost $16). Add popcorn and a soft drink, and the couple shell out more than $40 just for their movie.

“Money just doesn’t go as far here,” Adam Patton said.

England was an expensive place to live before the dollar turned to mush.

The exchange rate hasn’t been south of $1.90 for about six months. By comparison, the dollar is a circus strongman against the euro. Maj. Chris Crane, commander of the 100th Comptroller Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, has heard the complaints.

“It’s very location-specific,” he said.

The complaints increase when the COLA drops, as it did recently. Crane said an exchange rate of $2.04 was used to calculate COLA late last year as the dollar weakened. But when the dollar stabilized, the rate was lowered to $1.94 in February.

“It caused a bit of a drop in everybody’s COLA,” he said.

Crane said people may think they get too little compared to people stationed at Ramstein, Germany, for example, but, he said, “You’ve got two very different sets of circumstances.”

For example, an E-5 with two dependents and 10 years in the service will receive $796.92 monthly COLA at RAF Mildenhall or RAF Lakenheath. At Ramstein, that same servicemember would receive $667.50.

The allowances for an O-4 with the same details would be $1,173.75 at the United Kingdom bases and $1,000 at Ramstein.

The United Kingdom rates are higher, but not enough to convince people they aren’t being ripped off. People stationed in England pay a television license fee of 121 pounds ($235) and a Ministry of Transportation vehicle registration fee, which varies according to car, but can be $300 or more. Those are not paid in Germany.

But Crane says those fees are recovered in the COLA.

Patton thinks people at bases such as RAF Croughton, which has limited facilities, should get a greater COLA than they do. That same E-5, if stationed at RAF Croughton, would receive $930.42, less than $140 more than his counterpart at RAF Lakenheath, which has a large exchange and commissary — and a movie theater.

U.S. Navy Lt. Bill Shaefer, who is one of about 270 sailors stationed at RAF St. Mawgan in far western England, shares Patton’s concern.

Shaefer’s base has a small exchange, no other facilities and most people drive farther to work than at other bases. He thinks his COLA “doesn’t even come close” to making up the difference.

That E-5 would get $930.42 at Schaefer’s base. The O-4 would receive $1,373.75.

Crane merely shrugs at the talk. He’s convinced the COLA calculations are accurate.

“It reflects local conditions,” he said.

Speaking for COLA recipients everywhere, Shaefer said if his COLA rate is right, “somebody’s getting paid way too much.”

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