About 7,000 sailors with the Bush carrier strike group and the Bataan ampibious ready group likely will be about $1,000 richer than expected when they get back from deployment this fall.
That's because personnel officials are closing in on a new special pay — "Hardship Duty Pay – Tempo" — that would compensate sailors for increasingly arduous deployment schedules.
Under a proposal approved by senior Navy and Marine Corps leaders, and now being reviewed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, sailors and Marines would be paid an extra $17 every day they are deployed beyond 220 days.
For the Bush, which is projected to be gone close to 9½ months, it would mean about $1,100 per sailor, or about $500 for every month past the 220-day mark. The plan would also affect sailors and Marines in the Bataan amphibious ready group, currently in the 5th Fleet AOR, which is also scheduled for a nine-month-plus deployment.
Navy leaders are fighting the clock, hoping to get the pay started by mid-September, when the Bush and Bataan hit the 220-day mark.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert briefed sailors on the program Aug. 6 during an all-hands call in Bangor, Washington, saying the pay is intended to compensate sailors for increasingly long deployments.
For most of the year, personnel officials have been wrangling with both the Marine Corps and the other services over how to pay sailors more without locking other services into another special pay at a time of increasingly constrained budgets.
In recent years, the fleet has been subjected to ever-longer deployments, due in part tothe budget sequestration and high demand for Navy forces. Sailors getting underway for a cruise these days can expect to be gone anywhere from 7.5 to 10 months, far outstripping the historic norm of six months.
"We've had a goal for a while now to get the recognition that these longer deployments [deserve]; we're asking a lot of sailors and their families," said Vice Adm. Bill Moran, chief of naval personnel. "The CNO and [Navy Secretary Ray Mabus] have been strong on trying to compensate sailors when we ask them to do these hardship deployments."
The service is simply awaiting final approval before starting the pay, Moran said.
"It's with [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] now and we're hopeful that they'll approve it before the end of the fiscal year," he said. "That's been our goal all along, to compensate the sailors in the Bush strike group and the Bataan group, and other sailors in other parts of the world, for greater than 220 days consecutively."
The program is substantially different from a program floated by Greenert and Moran earlier this year that would have paid sailors $250 a month after 190 days. That program, known as High-Deployment Allowance, has a long and troubled history in the Pentagon and has met with resistance every time it has been raised.
"High-Deployment Allowance is suspended, and we don't know when that's going to be lifted," Moran said. "So in the meantime, we went after this other authority to compensate for the continuous long deployments that the Navy has been doing."
Signed into law 14 years ago, HDA allows the service secretaries to pay service members up to $1,000 for long deployments, defined as lasting more than 190 days.
It was intended to act as a kind of tax on the services for over-deploying units. The law also requires that service members deployed more than 400 days in two years receive the pay.
But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Defense Department officials suspended the allowance. No service member has seen a dime of it. The Army, in particular, has tried to kill HDA by lobbying to have it repealed in favor of a program called "warrior pay" for soldiers deployed more than 12 months.
Defense officials wanted to give the services more flexibility in defining what constituted a long deployment and how much to pay.
HDP-T gives the services the flexibility they are looking for since it gives greater discretion to the service secretaries to define a long deployment. The HDP-T program does not, however, reward sailors for cumulative days over two deployments the way High-Deployment Allowance would have. Under the Navy's proposal, sailors would only get paid after 220 consecutive days on deployment. A new deployment would start the cycle again, not build on past deployments.
"This is a service-by-service request," Moran said. " Hardship Duty Pay – Tempo allows services to request it on their own, but it has to be approved by OSD. It does not mandate that the other services apply this, and there is flexibility in what amount of money can be authorized under HDP-T."
The 'ragged edge'
Although the Bush and Bataan would likely be the first to receive the pay, others would follow.
The carrier Carl Vinson, which is scheduled to deploy in late August, should be deployed for about nine months. Vinson should be followed by Truman, which should qualify for the pay under the new deployment plan championed by the fleet's top boss, Adm. Bill Gortney, head of Fleet Forces Command.
The optimized fleet response plan caps deployments at eight months, which Gortney says is the "ragged edge" of what the Navy sees as an acceptable deployment length.
"We just sent Bush out on a 9½-month deployment; that's not a sustainable model," Gortney said in an April interview with Defense News, a sister publication of Navy Times. "We want to get it to eight months, and we think that's sustainable over a three-year period," he continued, referring to the new 36-month deployment cycle that carriers will start later this year.
The program is Gortney's attempt to give sailors, maintainers and shipyards a more predictable schedule. It's that unpredictable schedule, which is hard on families, that leaders such as Moran hear about most when they visit ships and installations around the fleet.
"Obviously, the longer they are away from their families, the harder it is," he said. "I think they are mostly frustrated with longer deployments when they aren't planned. They get extended last-minute, or they turn around more quickly than expected — that's the unpredictability piece that worries them more than anything else."
Truman is supposed to be the first carrier put into the new OFRP system but, given the new mission in Iraq and new threats in the Mediterranean and Black seas, it's possible that the program is altered.
Regaining lost ground
Even with the new HDP-T, deployment to the Persian Gulf and other hot spots is significantly less lucrative than it used to be for sailors and Marines.
Starting in June, the Defense Department suspended Imminent Danger Pay for military members on the water or in the air over the Persian Gulf.
The change also affected deployed service members in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as sailors and Marines in the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea.
The pay amounted to $225 per month for service members, meaning that at the end of a roughly 270-day deployment, sailors and Marines on the Bataan and the Bush would each walk away with $2,025 in addition to their regular pay.
The military argued that the pay was no longer needed because of changing conditions in the region and that the move saved DoD about $9 million per month.
But the move was deeply unpopular with sailors, who were hit hard by the change. In total, about 95,000 service members were affected by the program, which is managed by OSD.
Despite renewed combat operations in the region, with Navy fighters striking terrorist targets in Iraq, a change in DoD policy isn't in the cards, said OSD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.
"The department is not reviewing Imminent Danger Pay for the water and air space above the Persian Gulf ... and we are not contemplating another review in the near term," he said in a statement. "However, combatant commanders have the responsibility to monitor the conditions in theater of responsibility, and should the conditions there change to warrant IDP, we would expect to receive a request for designation from U.S. Central Command via the Joint Staff.
"IDP will remain in effect for those in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and Egypt within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility."
Despite the loss of IDP, sailors may soon get extra pay to make up for the lost income.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.