“Sea Pay” for Soldiers

“Sea Pay” for Soldiers Without Ships

The U.S. Army is considering paying soldiers serving overseas in hostile environments (not necessarily combat zones) special pay. It’s being called “field pay.” This concept is based on the U.S. Navy’s “sea pay.” The U.S. Navy has long paid sailors extra pay for time spent on board a ship at sea. This “sea pay” compensates for being away from the comforts of home, or at least the civilian amenities found outside naval bases. It’s also compensation for the prohibition (since 1914) against alcoholic drinks on board. The pay varies according to rank, time in the navy and other factors. Currently, enlisted sailors get $50 to $646 per month, warrant officers $180 to $730 and commissioned officers $100 to $535.

Serving overseas in the army has come to resemble being on a ship. Troops are usually not allowed off base much, and there’s no booze on base. Sort of like being on a ship. The army sees troops being sent to places like Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come. While the combat operations will not be as intense, the soldiers will still be serving in an alien, and often uncomfortable, environment. Soldiers are aware of sea pay, and the idea appears to have bubbled up from the ranks. Taking the hint, the army is seriously considering it. The army is already offering re-enlistment bonuses of $5,000-10,000 for soldier who are in units getting ready to move to Iraq or Afghanistan, and are at the end of their current enlistment. It’s worth the money to keep such experienced troops in for another three years, and especially to keep them in for the year their unit will be spending in a combat zone. That bonus program has proved popular, and effective.

This is actually a very good idea. While my initial reaction was that soldiers are paid to work in uncomfortable conditions and that, if there is a consensus that the pay is too low for that then increase it across the board. But doing it this way has the advantage of overcoming one of the absurdities in the military pay structure–paying soldiers based almost purely on rank rather than the work they do. This system would allow the grunt living in Afghanistan to get some additional compensation for his hardship that the finance clerk who never leaves the comforts of his office doesn’t get.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Environment, Military Affairs, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim says:

    I like the idea. The Army in the late 90s tried to do something like that on the sly in the Balkans: they gave everyone BAS (despite have DFAC food) and a pier diem rate. They also gave family seperation allowence. It was cumbsersome system that this ‘deployment pay’ would surely be more effective. Now, the real question….what do we give the Air Force?

  2. Boyd says:

    [Interservice snark]

    Since the Air Force are just civilians in uniform, how does a military discussion involve them?

    [/Interservice snark]