Undoubtedly, one of the most frequently addressed topics with recruiters is the discussion of the enlisted salary and monetary compensation. Everybody thinks the troops should be paid more, of course (especially the troops), but the truth is that enlisted pay scale-namely for young soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines right out of high school-is nothing to sneer at.

Combined with the benefits offered, enlisting in the military as a young person turns out to be a viable source of income for many people. In other words, in addition to learning a hell of a lot of stuff, you also don’t have to worry about where the money’s coming from, and if you’re leaving college to join the military then you don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from. Yeah luxury!

Base pay for military members is established for all branches all across the board, but there is a bit of fluctuation, here are the factors:

Pay grade, aka military rank

Time in service or time in rank

Bonuses and incentives

Living allowances

Although it’s possible, it’s not very likely that your recruiter will launch into a breakdown of your branch’s salary or give a rundown of that year’s pay charts without being asked. Nor is it uncommon for recruiters to use salesy examples like “within 2 years, you’ll be making amount” in order to make pay rates for military members sound more generous than they necessarily are.

Base Pay

As mentioned, this is the static rate of military pay all across the board for all branches. The only time you’ll see deviation form these figures is when you factor in the other variables, when they apply. Fortunately, in the interest of inflation, you’ll see military pay table figures increase from year to year. It’s kind of like getting a year pay raise, albeit a small one. So don’t be surprised if your 2012 pay chart is slightly less than a projected 2013 pay chart.

For the sake of illustration, this military pay table provides salary data for all active duty personnel, including officers and warrant officers. The lower portion showcases the base pay for enlisted personnel.

2015 enlisted and officer pay chart

2015 military pay chart

Pay Grade

A little bit of enlisted rank knowledge helps in understand the table. Regardless of which branch you’re talking about joining, enlisted rank is denoted with an “E” as the prefix, with the actual numeric rank as the suffix. E-1 refers to the lowest ranking position an enlisted person can hold, but the title will vary from branch to branch. For example, an E-1 in the Army will be address as “Private”, while an E-1 in the Air Force will be addressed as “Airman Basic”, but their respective paychecks will both reflect an E-1’s base pay.

From there, the rest is intuitive: the higher ranking you are, the higher your base pay.

Time in Service

The next element that effects military salary is how much time that you’ve actually spent in active duty. Right off the bat, of course, that time will fall under the <2 year column, located at the far left of the pay chart. As you progress to your third year, fourth year and so on, your pay (and hopefully your rank!) also progress according to the pay scale. As mentioned, each year a new pay scale for military personnel will be released. For example, the above pay chart reflects military pay for 2012, but in 2011, an E-1’s base pay was only $1,467 instead of $1,491.

It’s important to note that if you are promoted, but fail to achieve a promotion at some point, you will max out your salary. For example, if you reach the pay grade of E-5 with 12 years time in service, you will find your salary caps out at $3,013, only increasing marginally each year. The only way to increase your base pay at that point is to get promoted to the next pay grade. Generally, the lower the pay grade, the shorter time you will spend within that rank.

 

Special Duty and Incentive Bonus Pay Programs (Enlistment Bonus)

Although a very broad topic, each branch offers added pay for duties that are exceptionally or unusually difficult, highly competitive, dangerous, or require specialized skills. Some examples of the military’s special duty pay may include:

-hazard duty pay

-combat pay

-linguistics pay

-nuclear qualification pay

-special pay for medical personnel

-sea/submarine duty pay

In addition special duty pay, it’s not uncommon for recruits to be promised a considerable monetary bonus for enlisting in the military. In exchange for this bonus incentive, a recruit will be expected to enlist for a predetermined amount of time, as well as fulfill a specific duty. More often than not, the military offers these bonuses to a recruit after determining whether he or she is pre-qualified to fill duty slots that have opened up according to the military’s manning standards. As you’d expect, these positions can be highly competitive, dangerous, difficult, or intellectually challenging to an unusual degree.

If you qualify for, and are offered an enlistment bonus, then congratulations! But as is always the case with administration, get any and all of the terms and conditions of the enlistment bonus and contract in writing before signing off on it. Understand exactly what is expected of you in order to get your bonus, and make sure the documentation states clearly when, how much, and who you should be in contact with once your end of the agreements is fulfilled.

Very often, contracts will stipulate that no bonus or incentive will be provided until certain training criteria are met, and may terminate completely if you fail to achieve those criteria within a certain timeframe. In short: “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.” Pay attention to the details.

 

Living Allowances

Living allowances within the military come in a number of different forms, and as is so often the case, varies from branch to branch. Some possible living allowances may include:

-BAH (basic allowance for housing): which varies not so much between branches, but varies widely from city to city.

-COLA (cost of living adjustment): another location based compensation.

-BAS (basic allowance for subsistence): this allowance is to help offset the cost of military members’ food expenses

-Clothing allowance: deposited to enlisted and officers, this allowance is to help fund the upkeep and replacement of uniforms.

-Dislocation allowance: reimbursement for a service member’s relocation from duty station to duty station.

If you’re uncertain as to which forms of compensation you may be entitled to, consult your disbursing or administrative department. In most cases, recruits will not be entitled to many of these forms of compensation until certain conditions are met, such as BAH, which is restricted to individuals without dependents who have achieved the rank of E-5. However, even an E-2 with dependents does qualify for BAH.

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