Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., is backing bigger pay raises for troops in combat. Above, soldiers watch their platoon's flank during an air assault and cleaning mission in the Pech Valley of Afghanistan in March. (Rob Curtis / Staff)
The Senate will soon wrestle with the question of whether it is better to provide bigger pay raises to troops in combat or smaller raises to the entire force.
At issue is a proposed $150 pay raise in January for combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, versus an across-the-board increase that is slightly bigger than the White House's proposal, which would boost the pay raise of a young grunt by little more than $8 a month.
The proposal comes from Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., the Vietnam veteran and former Navy secretary who became chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee's personnel panel earlier this year.
Webb intends to offer an amendment to the Senate version of the 2011 defense authorization bill that would use part of the $370 million difference between the http://www.militarytimes.com/benefits/pay/military_2011_pay_raise_020410w/">1.4 percent all-ranks basic pay increase proposed by the Obama administration and the http://www.militarytimes.com/money/financial_advice/military_2011_payraise_060310w/">1.9 percent all-ranks raise approved by the House of Representatives to provide targeted pay increases for troops in the combat zones.
Webb's exact plans for the $370 million are still murky, but congressional sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his most likely action would be to take $100 million or more to increase either hostile fire pay or family separation allowance, or possibly both.
What got Webb's attention is the fact that the difference between a 1.4 percent and 1.9 percent pay raise works out to just $8.10 a month for an E-2, $9.60 a month for an E-3 and between $10.80 and $11.69 for an E-4, depending on time in service.
Pay increases targeted to combat troops would favor the Army and Marine Corps, who have more people in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the exact number affected would depend on combat deployments next year, about 225,000 people would get the bigger raises under Webb's plan. The military's remaining 1.2 million active-duty members and 844,500 drilling members of the National Guard and reserves would get a 1.4 percent raise, instead of the 1.9 percent increase.