Marines with Fighter Attack Squadron 312 returned April 17 after a nine-month deployment aboard the carrier Truman. Under a new pay proposal, they would have made extra cash for an extended deployment. (Steve Helber/The Associated Press)
While Marines are downsizing and transitioning to a more expeditionary posture abroad, the Navy is considering sacrificing a carrier to budget cuts, which is likely to extend deployments for sailors and some Marine squadrons, and may also lead to extended deployments for Marine amphibious units.
As a result, the secretary of the Navy is hammering out a plan to pad troops’ wallets.
There’s just one catch: Marines may not get it.
The Navy Department wants to start a special pay for troops on long deployments, in which average sailors or Marines could see an additional $500 to $1,000 in their pockets for each overseas cruise.
Depending on where you are in the world, that money could be tax-free.
But each service has a level of discretion over special pays, and it isn’t clear if Marine officials will go along with the plan.
“During our review process, we will need to determine what constitutes an extended deployment, the amount of compensation and even whether we can support such a proposal,” said Yvonne Carlock, a Manpower and Reserve Affairs spokeswoman at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. “It is not unprecedented that the Navy and the Marine Corps have different policies on special pay/special duty pay. Current examples are recruiters and pilots.”
But, during interviews with Navy Times, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus indicated they would like to see the pay instituted in the next year or two for Marines, too.
“We, Secretary Mabus and I, have talked briefly with Secretary Hagel about the idea, but we have to bring the proposal forward,” Greenert told Navy Times. “So we want it to last at least for our department. And we are doing this in concert with the Marine Corps, by the way.”
To do otherwise would leave Marines serving shoulder-to-shoulder with sailors on extended deployments, receiving hundreds of dollars less.
The extra pay could become more important to even more service members as longer deployments loom.
Marines and sailors are already seeing deployment lengths extended, which could be compounded by the slated retirement of the aircraft carrier George Washington. Unless lawmakers lift the burdensome sequestration spending cuts, it will no longer sail. That could affect Marines serving with shipboard aviation units.
“We just sent Bush out on a nine-and-a-half month deployment; that’s not a sustainable model,” said Adm. Bill Gortney, the head of Fleet Forces Command, in a recent interview with Defense News, another sister publication. “We want to get it to eight months.”
The real effect on Marines will come when the plan for longer deployment cycles is extended to the Navy’s amphibious fleet, which has already seen a handful of extended floats.
If approved, here’s how high deployment allowance pay will work:
■The pay kicks in after you’ve been deployed for 190 straight days.
■Marines and sailors would get about $250 — an exact amount hasn’t been determined — for every month they’re deployed beyond that point.
■As the plan stands, the pay will not be prorated:Marines and sailors would get their first full month’s worth of cash on Day 191, another payout on Day 221, and so on.
With carrier cruises now averaging about 260 days, or 8½ months, this special pay would mean a big boost to fleet sailors and the Marines who serve alongside them, either as aircrew on carriers or on extended amphib floats.
“With the longer deployments on top of all the changes to compensation, we really want this win for our sailors,” said a Navy official familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity to discuss ongoing deliberations. He estimated that 10,000 sailors would receive this pay every year.
It was not immediately clear, if offered, how many Marines would receive the pay, but with operations in Afghanistan winding down, Marine deployments will also become more unpredictable. As the service refocuses on crisis response, humanitarian assistance and foreign partner training, when and where Marines deploy could become difficult to anticipate.
Already, roughly 5,000 Marines on Marine expeditionary units would likely qualify. As the Corps transitions to the the Expeditionary Force 21 concept of operations abroad, it’s uncertain, but not improbable, that the number of qualifying Marines would grow, just as the length of time at sea may increase.
Never been done
There is one big hitch in this plan: It has never been paid out before.
High-deployment pay, which the CNO and the CNP want to institute, was authorized by Congress 14 years ago. The law allows service secretaries to pay service members up to $1,000 for long deployments, defined as lasting more than 190 days.
But then came the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.Just as deployments were about to get longer, Defense Department officials suspended the allowance.
But with Navy leaders now resigned to longer deployments becoming the new normal, the idea of bringing back HDA has gained currency. Whether the Marine Corps will go along remains to be seen.■