DoD Cuts Imminent Danger Pay

Last week, the Department of Defense updated which areas of the world qualify for Imminent Danger Pay. I agree with this decision and think it supports our troops in harm’s way. Sounds counter-intuitive to support cutting a portion of the pay of deployed troops, but as with most things, there is more to all this than there seems.

This decision is based on the realities of war and how a war zone is defined. Imminent Danger Pay is for those troops whose daily routine includes being shot at, rocketed or otherwise blown up or being at risk for those things because of where they are sent.

Places being recertified as eligible for Imminent Danger Pay include Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen among a list of twenty nine other air, sea and land areas. Interestingly, there are places on that list, like Iran and Syria, where no troops are deployed. But if troops were to go to those locales, they would definitely be in imminent danger.

Areas no longer eligible for this additional amount, which is merely $7.50 per day, may have at one time been dangerous but are now often considered vacation spots to front line troops. After spending months on a COP, or Combat Outpost Position where hot showers are a distant memory, going to a base in Bahrain, Kuwait or Qatar where there is a Pizza Hut, Burger King or even a Chili’s where you can relax with a beverage poolside don’t exactly feel dangerous. And they aren’t, not in the same way that even the largest, ostensibly most secure base in Afghanistan, Bagram Airfield still is.

The military and veteran communities are split in their reactions. Some say it’s about damn time, while others say of all the fish to fry, this one is barely worth the bait. Of the former, many fall into the category of those who did spend their tours in places where each and every day was a round of Russian roulette with all but one chamber loaded.

While they appreciated and understood they wouldn’t have been able to do their jobs on the COP without the logistics and support of units in Saudi Arabia or other places hundreds or thousands of miles from the action, they resented a supply clerk in an air-conditioned office getting IDP. The supply clerk could be reasonably certain that every time he walked outside his office, snipers weren’t trained on him nor would he drive over an IED on his way to lunch.

The DoD estimates that the measly $7.50 per day which is Imminent Danger Pay, when applied to the tens of thousands of personnel in the nearly two dozen decertified areas of operation represents a savings of $108 million dollars a year. The DoD says this decision is not driven by budget cuts or the sequestration, though that is one of those comments so divorced from reality it makes no sense. Of course budget considerations played a role, as the DoD is looking for ways to reduce spending. At least this cut makes a stab at common sense and fairness. Let’s hope the next round of cuts can be categorized in the same vein.

This action is a step in recognizing, and compensating service members based on what they actually do. For many, however, it doesn’t correct one of those things that those who have deployed and spent most of their time outside the wire resent the most. As this falls under the concepts of honor and integrity and sadly represent long standing military traditions of the worst sort, no change in policy will matter.

Forward Operating Bases in some places are only slightly less dangerous than the most remote COP, but there are duties within a FOB that are much less inherently risky than others. Someone who patrols daily looking for, disarming and/or disabling IED’s or runs supply convoys to the more remote COP’s has a very different war than someone who is not so affectionately known as a Fobbit.

That term is a reference to the risk averse, security loving Hobbit of Tolkien lore who sees no reason and will go to great lengths to never leave his warm, dry, snuggly home. Fobbits don’t get called that just because it is their job to remain inside the wire; that label is reserved for those, usually ranking higher than the typical enlisted personnel, who take advantage of their position to remain relatively safe and comfortable.

There are several other forms of pay troops qualify for when they deploy, depending on where they are sent as well as what they do. The biggest concern to even those who support these changes to Imminent Danger Pay qualifications is this decision by the DoD represents the beginning of erosion of other pay and benefits. That remains to be seen, but fear of what could or may happen shouldn’t interfere with support for changes that are justified and reasonable. Perhaps taking this step will forestall other, unreasonable cuts to the pay and benefits of our troops, particularly those truly in harm’s way.

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