Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Reality-checking old Time magazine

By Matthew Collins Best Defense office of military compensation analysis Time magazine recently had an interesting article on defense spending. While it makes some good points about the need for a 12-carrier fleet when most countries survive with… none, he reached a bit too far at one point: “Here’s a number that would make Wall ...

By Matthew Collins
Best Defense office of military compensation analysis

Time magazine recently had an interesting article on defense spending. While it makes some good points about the need for a 12-carrier fleet when most countries survive with... none, he reached a bit too far at one point:

"Here's a number that would make Wall Street weep: some 60 members of the crew of the carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln recently pocketed $3.4 million in bonuses --$57,000 each, tax-free -- simply to re-enlist."

By Matthew Collins
Best Defense office of military compensation analysis

Time magazine recently had an interesting article on defense spending. While it makes some good points about the need for a 12-carrier fleet when most countries survive with… none, he reached a bit too far at one point:

“Here’s a number that would make Wall Street weep: some 60 members of the crew of the carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln recently pocketed $3.4 million in bonuses –$57,000 each, tax-free — simply to re-enlist.”

While a $57,000 tax-free check is no pittance, it is important to put that figure in perspective. These sailors got those bonuses for reenlisting, typically for 3 to 4 year stints, so they essentially signed up for a $15,000 pay raise. They were likely from the Navy Nuclear Power field, arguably the most technical enlisted specialty in the military. Ambitious dilettantes might learn to fly a plane or pick up a language as a hobby, but few people dabble in nuclear engineering.

The bonus was tax-free because they signed the papers while they were deployed to the Middle East. It is pretty common for enlisted personnel to time their reenlistments for deployments to avoid paying taxes on those bonuses, and officers encourage it. With 5,000 people on the carrier, those 60 people with big dollar bonuses are hardly a representative sample.

The Navy uses those bonuses to coax their nukes into re-enlisting. Their other option is going back to school or taking higher paying/lower stress civilian jobs, where they don’t spend healthy chunk of their lives out at sea or in port, preparing for the next inspection. Some nukes actually enjoy fresh air and sunlight. The bonus system might be clunky, but Congress insists on paying everyone from Air Force admin clerks to Special Forces team sergeants on the same pay scale.

It bears mentioning that in the last fifty years, no navy reactor has ever had a catastrophic failure or melt down. Perhaps Lehman Brothers should have hired more former nukes.

Matthew Collins is a graduate of the US Naval Academy and spent 10 years as a Marine officer. He never received a bonus, of any sort.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
Tag: Media

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