Combat pay is silver lining in deployment to Iraq
By TERRY BOYD AND LISA BURGESS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 20, 2003
For those sitting in Iraq for a year, there is a silver lining to the cloud: Deployments to a combat zone show up as extra money in the paycheck.
Not a fortune, certainly, but enough money to pay bills, buy a new car or make the down payment on a new home.
Here is a look at them:
¶ Combat zone income tax exclusion: Not paying the IRS income tax can save thousands of dollars. Those who benefit the most are in the government’s highest tax category: unmarried members without dependents or mortgages.
¶ Family Separation Allowance: For servicemembers with families, this helps pay the added housing expenses resulting from enforced separation. In April, Congress enacted a temporary increase, to $250 per month from $100 per month.
¶ Imminent Danger Pay: All servicemembers deployed to Iraq qualify for $225 per month in danger pay, which was boosted from $150 per month by Congress in April. Servicemembers get a month’s worth of this pay even if they were assigned to a designated area for just a single day.
¶ Hardship Duty Pay: All military personnel in Iraq get $100 per month.
¶ Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay: This generally is paid at a rate of $150 per month to officers and enlisted members whose orders require them to participate in “frequent and regular” duties considered unusually arduous or hazardous. The pay is prorated, meaning someone who works less than a month would get $3.33 per day. The pay comes in several categories, such as Crew Member Flight Pay, Non-crew Member Flight Pay, Parachute Duty Pay (“jump pay”), Demolition Duty Pay, Toxic Fuels (or Propellants) Duty Pay, Dangerous Viruses (or Bacteria) Lab Duty Pay, and Chemical Munitions Pay.
The boosts approved in April for Family Separation Allowance and Imminent Danger Pay, which were retroactive to October 2002, expire Oct. 30. But both pays are funded through the end of fiscal 2004 — October 2004 — in the Iraq supplemental bill now making its way through Congress.
While lawmakers are arguing about portions of the supplemental bill related to civilian Iraqi development, no one has contested the military request, which accounts for the lion’s share. Meanwhile, if for some reason the supplemental bill does not pass, congressional authorizers may choose to include the pays in their 2004 defense budget as well, a pay and benefits official said Friday.
One way or another, the two pays are almost certain to be there for another 12 months.
“The simple bottom line is the FSA and IDP increases will continue through fiscal ’04,” the official told Stripes.
Money to bank on
Much of the extra pay that troops are earning is going straight into the bank, since few opportunities exist in Iraq for spending sprees.
In fact, the majority of 1st Armored Division soldiers and officers interviewed in Iraq said they’re spending hardly any money downrange.
Most have simple goals for their windfalls — pay off bills, then having some fun when they get home.
Capt. Catherine Lev, 26, said she is just hoping to pay off her 2002 Honda Civic. Anything left over will go toward a week’s vacation in Japan, followed by a week in Australia.
“And I can do it — if I stay off Amazon.com and off all the Internet retail sites,” said Lev, who is assigned to Headquarters, Headquarters Company of the Baumholder, Germany-based 2nd Brigade. “That’s what most soldiers do here — shop online.”
Other soldiers have significant ambitions, including major investment plans, house purchases and new businesses.
Staff Sgt. Leonard Stowers, 38, with the 40th Combat Engineers in Baumholder, said that a big percentage of his pay is going directly into a mutual fund. His goal is to come up with about $200,000 in cash and Veterans Administration-guaranteed low-interest loans, which he hopes to invest in a gasoline station/convenience store that would open within 10 years.
In Iraq, saving the cash is almost painless, Stowers said.
“I don’t even see it now, so it’s like it was never there,” he said.
For two-income couples, the Iraq deployment offers a chance to get really serious about saving money, such as the $3,000 per month that Sgt. 1st Class Manuel Stokes and his wife are putting in the bank.
Stokes is 2nd Brigade’s communications chief, while his wife, Corliss Stokes, manages the post Burger King in Baumholder.
Stokes said he needs to do some serious saving to ease his transition into the civilian telecommunications world after 17 years in the Army. Competing for those savings are the expenses of raising five daughters.
Spc. Narda Betancourt, 22, and her husband, Sgt. Andre Betancourt, who both are with the 2nd Brigade in Iraq, are hoping that by the time they get home, they’ll have saved a significant portion of the $20,000 they figure they need as a down payment on a home in Florida.
Each is saving about 60 percent of his or her paycheck, spending only the money they need to support their 11-month-old daughter, Jasmin, who’s staying with family. At this rate, their dream home should become reality in the next three years, Narda Betancourt said.
Pfc. Kirk Williams, 20, who is at Camp Victory in Iraq, also sees dollar signs every day he serves. In fact, he enlisted in the Army for four years to save enough money to pursue his dream of starting his own music label in his hometown of Orlando, Fla. Williams, an administrative clerk with V Corps Headquarters out of Heidelberg, Germany, extended his overseas tour — knowing he would end up in Iraq and knowing he could make even more money. He puts aside at least $1,300 every month in savings and has set a goal of saving $20,000.
Other servicemembers have more modest goals, though most hope their year in Iraq will pay big dividends in the future.
First Sgt. David Bray, HHC, 2nd Brigade, said he is socking away about $200 per month, which he hopes will give him a nest egg of about $2,500 over the full year’s deployment. His first priority is using the money to pay off debts.
“The biggest thing is to leave with no bills,” Bray said.