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More pay for longer deployments

New allowance would reward Marines after 220 days away

Aug. 18, 2014 - 08:15PM   |  
VMFA-115 deploys to Western Pacific
Marines prepare to deploy to the Western Pacific in July. Defense officials are considering additional pay for Marines whose deployments are extended. (Cpl. Sarah Cherry/Marine Corps)
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Members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit likely will be about $800 richer than expected when they get back from deployment this fall.

Members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit likely will be about $800 richer than expected when they get back from deployment this fall.

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Members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit likely will be about $800 richer than expected when they get back from deployment this fall.

That’s because personnel officials are closing in on a new special pay, “Hardship Duty Pay – Tempo,” that would compensate Marines and sailors for increasingly arduous deployment schedules, like the crisis response missions which take Marines out for as long as 11 months.

Under a proposal approved by senior Navy and Marine Corps leaders, and now being reviewed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Marines and sailors would be paid an extra $17 every day they are deployed beyond 220 days.

For the 22nd MEU, which is scheduled for a nine-months-plus deployment with the Bataan amphibious ready group, currently in the Persian Gulf, it would mean about $800 per Marine, or about $500 for every month past the 220-day mark. The plan would also affect sailors with the Bush carrier strike group, which is projected to be gone close to 10 months.

Navy Department leaders are fighting the clock, hoping to get the pay started by mid-September, when the Bataan and Bush hit the 220-day mark.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert briefed sailors on the program Aug. 6 during an all-hands call in Bangor, Washington, saying the pay is intended to compensate sailors for increasingly long deployments.

For most of the year, Naval personnel officials have been wrangling with both the Marine Corps and the other services over how to pay sailors more without locking other services into another special pay at a time of increasingly constrained budgets.

In recent years, the Marines have been subjected to ever-longer deployments. With fewer amphibious ships sailing, MEU pumps have gotten longer, with cruises lasting anywhere from 7.5 to 10 months. Marines in high-demand fields, like Osprey squadrons or intelligence battalions, are also deploying often and for longer.

The plan is just pending final approval before the extra pay will kick in, said Vice Adm. Bill Moran, chief of naval personnel.

“It’s with [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] now, and we’re hopeful that they’ll approve it before the end of the fiscal year,” Moran said. “That’s been our goal all along, to compensate the sailors in the Bush strike group and the Bataan group, and other sailors in other parts of the world, for greater than 220 days consecutively.”

The program is substantially different from a program floated by Greenert and Moran earlier this year that would have paid Marines and sailors $250 a month after 190 days. That program, known as High-Deployment Allowance, has a long and troubled history in the Pentagon and has met with resistance every time it has been raised.

“High-Deployment Allowance is suspended, and we don’t know when that’s going to be lifted,” Moran said. “So in the meantime, we went after this other authority to compensate for the continuous long deployments that the Navy has been doing.”

Signed into law 14 years ago, HDA allows the service secretaries to pay service members up to $1,000 for long deployments, defined as lasting more than 190 days.

It was intended to act as a kind of tax on the services for over-burdening units. The law also requires that service members deployed more than 400 days in two years receive the pay.

But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Defense Department officials suspended the allowance. No service member has seen a dime of HDA. The Army, in particular, has tried to kill HDA by lobbying to have it repealed in favor of a program called “warrior pay” for soldiers deployed more than 12 months.

Defense officials wanted to give the services more flexibility in defining what constituted a long deployment and how much to pay.

HDP-T gives the services the flexibility they are looking for since it gives greater discretion to the service secretaries to define a long deployment. The HDP-T program does not, however, reward Marines and sailors for cumulative days over two deployments the way High-Deployment Allowance would have. Under the Navy’s proposal, service members would only get paid after 220 consecutive days on deployment. A new deployment would start the cycle over again.

Regaining lost ground

Even with the new HDP-T, deployment to the Persian Gulf and other hot spots is significantly less lucrative than it used to be for Marines.

Starting in June, the Defense Department suspended Imminent Danger Pay for military members on the water or in the air over the Persian Gulf.

The change also affected deployed service members in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as Marines and sailors in the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea.

The pay amounted to $225 per month for service members, meaning that at the end of a roughly 270-day deployment, Marines with the 22nd MEU would each walk away with $2,025 in addition to their regular pay.

The military argued that the pay was no longer needed because of changing conditions in the region, and that the move saved DoD about $9 million per month.

Despite renewed operations in the region, a change in policy isn’t likely, said OSD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.

“The department is not reviewing Imminent Danger Pay for the water and air space above the Persian Gulf ... and we are not contemplating another review in the near term,” he said in a statement. “However, combatant commanders have the responsibility to monitor the conditions in theater of responsibility, and should the conditions there change to warrant IDP, we would expect to receive a request for designation from U.S. Central Command via the Joint Staff.

“IDP will remain in effect for those in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and Egypt within ... [CENTCOM].”

Despite the curtailment of IDP, Marines with the 22nd MEU can likely count on extra money to make up for the lost income soon.

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