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After spending four weeks watching the dollar drop to near-record lows, U.S. troops living in Europe are getting some help — to the tune of $150 to $200 a month — just in time to pay off their Christmas credit card bills.

The Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Committee announced late Friday that the cost-of-living allowance for U.S. servicemembers will go up — as much as 25 percent in some areas — starting with the pay period of Dec. 16-31.

The committee, part of the Department of Defense, came under fire in October when it lowered the COLA for troops despite the dollar’s staying relatively steady against the euro.

But on Nov. 23, the dollar started to lose ground against the euro, and by Dec. 6, the dollar hit its lowest point of the year at 73 cents.

The Per Diem committee responded with an across-the-board increase that took effect Saturday.

Under the new COLA rates, troops can expect as much as $100 more in their next paycheck.

That was good news for a few Bamberg, Germany-based soldiers who learned of the rate hike Saturday.

While shopping in the toy section of the Warner Barracks post exchange, Staff Sgt. Robert Kubash, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, said he was glad that he’ll see more money, but that his wife follows the COLA rate more than he does.

“She’s been questioning why it’s been so low. The exchange rate has been very poor, so why hasn’t the COLA been increasing?”

The father of two added that the only financial relief he’s seen in the past few months has been lower prices at the gas pumps, so the COLA increase will be a welcome change.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Murphy, also from the 173rd in Bamberg, said he notices when the rate goes up and down, but because he and his wife and three children live on post COLA changes don’t affect him as much as some.

“It’s always good when [the COLA rate] goes up,” Murphy said, “especially shopping downtown. A lot of people have been shying away from shopping there because of the dollar rate.”

U.S. troops receive COLA to help offset the high cost of living at expensive areas abroad. The Per Diem committee uses a number of factors to compile individual COLA allowances, including a member’s rank, years in service and the number of dependents. Troops’ buying patterns and exchange rates also are taken into account.

For example, an E-6 living in Bamberg who has three dependents and has been in the Army for six years saw his COLA jump to $28.99 a day from $23.87 — or more than $158 a month.

An O-3 with three dependents and six years’ service will see his COLA increase to $37.40 from $30.80 a day, or $204 a month.

The adjustment to the COLA took effect Saturday at nearly every base where U.S. troops are stationed in Europe. In England, for example, troops in Fairford got a 19 percent increase, while airmen living in RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath got a 25 percent hike.

About the only place in Europe that didn’t see a COLA increase was Incirlik Air Base in Turkey because servicemembers there do not receive COLA.

Many U.S. civilians living abroad also receive a cost-of-living allowance, but that stipend — known as post allowance — is set by the State Department. The State Department’s Web site, where post allowance rates can be found, has not been updated since Nov. 26.

According to the Web site, the last time the allowance increased for civilians living in Germany was on Aug. 8, when the dollar rate at military banking facilities was .7571.

For more information on the COLA, go to the Per Diem committee’s Web site at:

https://secureapp2.hqda.pentagon.mil/perdiem/allowcol.html. To find more information on the post allowance, visit the State Department’s Web site at: http://www.state.gov/rates/by_location.asp.

Stars and Stripes reporter Mark St.Clair contributed to this report.

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