Monday, February 06, 2012

In defense of the president

Bush Derangement Syndrome was (and still is) the tendency of those who dislike President Bush to blame everything on him, regardless of logic.  That's how some liberals came by the notion that not only did Bush cause hurricane Katrina, but he delayed help to the affected because he hates black people.

Today some conservative pundits are coming close to Obama derangement syndrome by attacking President Obama for 'cutting hazard pay for soldiers'.  This is flat out wrong, and here's why.

Hostile fire pay and imminent danger pay are two special stipends given to servicemembers in harm's way.  It used to be known as combat pay.  Currently, there are three major areas of the globe that qualify as hostile fire zones; Afghanistan, Kosovo and the Persian Gulf including areas of Africa.  The financial benefit of hostile fire pay is two fold-soldiers get an extra $225 a month in their paychecks, and they qualify for the Combat Zone Tax Exclusion, which is a tax break that exempts all pay and allowances from federal income taxes.  Starting this month, these special stipends are being prorated on a daily basis, a long overdue change.

The rule for the last two decades with hostile fire pay has been that you qualify or the benefit with as little as one day of actually being in a combat zone.  For instance, when my unit flew into Kuwait on our way to Iraq, we landed at 10pm local time on March 31st, 2006.  That two hours was enough to get us the $225 pay plus the tax exemption for the whole month of March.  Does that really make a lot of sense?

But the real problem with the one day/whole month rule has been the abuse by senior officers.  There are dozens of reasons for stateside soldiers to fly over to Iraq, Kuwait or Afghanistan for a few days; senior officers who are conferring with units under their command, soldiers who are staffers for VIP's, even mid level officers and NCO's who do short recon trips in advance of an upcoming deployment.  But every time a soldier enters a hostile fire zone for any length of time they are paid as though they had been there the whole month.  What's worse, it became routine for these trips to be scheduled so that stateside soldiers would be in the hostile fire zone on the last day of one month and the first day of the next, thus getting two months of benefit for two days of time in country. 

The military's change to a prorated pay is a long overdue change that will not only save money, it will remove a thorn from the side of the men and women who are on the front lines by reserving full hostile fire pay for those who are actually in harm's way. 

Conservatives have plenty of reasons to dislike President Obama.  But going down the road of blaming everything on him is as wrong now as it was when liberals did it to Bush.  No one is 'cutting combat pay' or screwing the troops by making this change, and those who are saying so should be embarrassed and apologize.   In fact, they should be happy to see money not being wasted.

By the way, if you read that list of hostile fire zones above and said 'Kosovo?', you didn't mis-read.  The US military still pays soldiers hostile fire pay for serving in Kosovo, even though the war ended more than a decade ago.  As I've said before, it's a great example of the fat that can legitimately be cut from the defense budget.

No comments: