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Military Pay, from the Lowest to the Highest

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The United States Armed Forces, made up of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, defend the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Conscription, also known as the draft, officially ended in 1972. Since then, the U.S. Armed Forces has remained an all-volunteer force. Service members are compensated through a combination of basic pay and benefits which include housing and subsistence allowances, based on pay grade and time in service.

Basic Pay

All members of the U.S. military who share the same pay grade with the same time in service receive the same amount of basic pay, regardless of their rank or branch of service. The lowest ranking enlisted personnel, whether an Army private or a Navy seaman recruit, had a pay grade of E-1 and received basic pay of $1,516.20 regardless of time in service. The highest ranking officer in any branch of service carries a pay grade of O-10. Monthly basic pay for these officers tops out at $19,566.90 after 38 years of service, as of the 2013 fiscal year.

Years in Service

Military service members may qualify for a pay increase based on how long they have served. A Marine sergeant major and an Air Force chief master sergeant both carry the highest enlisted pay grade of E-9. Those with an E-9 pay grade with 10 years in service received basic pay of $4,788.90 per month, and receive pay raises every two years through 26 years of service. Pay increases then shift to four-year increments until they top out at $7,435.20 per month after 38 years.

Basic Allowance for Housing

The U.S. Armed Forces provides housing for all of its service members. If adequate housing is not available on a military installation, the service will authorize a basic allowance for housing, which is based on the service member's pay grade and duty station. An Army sergeant with the pay grade of E-5 who was stationed at Ft. Rucker, Alabama received $792 per month for housing, as of the 2013 fiscal year. A Coast Guard petty officer 2nd class stationed at the same place would receive the same amount, while one stationed in the District of Columbia received $1,770 for housing.

Basic Allowance for Subsistence

Military service members are allotted a basic allowance for subsistence based on their status as an officer or enlisted service member. The amount of the allowance is determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food cost index. All commissioned officers, warrant officers and aviation cadets receive the same amount for subsistence, $242.60 per month as of the 2013 fiscal year, regardless of rank, pay grade or time in service. All enlisted personnel received $352.27 per month, regardless of rank, pay grade or time in service.


Mike Parker is a full-time writer, publisher and independent businessman. His background includes a career as an investments broker with such NYSE member firms as Edward Jones & Company, AG Edwards & Sons and Dean Witter. He helped launch DiscoverCard as one of the company's first merchant sales reps.

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