In 1943, Lieutenant General Leslie McNair—often considered the unrecognized architect of the American Army—was trying to solve the problem of mobilizing men into the infantry. Having the opportunity to choose the type of military service, soldiers avoided infantry units in every possible way, because it was there that the risk to life was the highest.
General McNair proposed the introduction of the Combat Infantryman Badge, and eventually (in 1944) the Badge Pay. This badge is still considered the most respected military distinction in the United States. And combat payments gave rise to a fundamentally new type of payment for military labor, although their administration changed greatly in subsequent decades.
Most traditional payments in the army are funds whose task is either to encourage effective service (for example, an allowance for qualifications), or to compensate for the specific conditions of its performance (for example, an allowance for service in high mountainous areas, which exists in Ukraine, or, for example, ). USA – stay bonus is separate from family).
But the essence of combat payments, according to their plan, was more complex than just financial motivation or financial compensation for damage. These payments were a symbol of justice and respect and demonstrated public acceptance of the mortal risks the fighters were taking.
The approach to combat pay varies greatly between countries, and in the United States, where they first appeared, these payouts have evolved significantly since World War II. Their evolution and differences reflect precisely changes in public attitudes towards combat risks and the policy of recognizing them.
For example, in the US, these payments gradually changed to Hostile fire pay and Imminent danger pay. Other countries have developed their own equivalents (for example, operational risk pay in Canada, the X-factor in determining military salaries in the UK, or combat pay in Australia).
But the main change is that today the armies of NATO countries are recruited on a contract basis and the last case of mobilization occurred during the Vietnam War. Accordingly, now, the riskiness of this profession is not always perceived by society as payment for civic duty and is assessed on a principle similar to other types of voluntary activity.
For example, the RAND Corporation’s 2019 assessment of the effectiveness of US combat payments primarily asked how they correspond to current combat risks, how technically their calculation meets the challenges of probabilistic risk assessment, and how transparent their administration is.
In the UK, the X Factor takes into account not only the risk of death or injury, but also a range of possible consequences of service on a person’s mental health, including long-term effects and PTSD. However, after lengthy political debate in Britain, it was decided that the X Factor should be applied equally to all military personnel, as the current public position is that every professional soldier should accept the same risk when signing a contract.
The polishing of combat payments in NATO countries also faced the problem of manipulation. For example, during the Iraq War, combat pay was first paid for the full moon, even if the service member was in the red zone for at least one day during that month. This apparently tempted many to organize day missions to the front line, and culminated in a change to daily wages.
Our war today is not the ordinary organizational management of professional NATO armies. These are hundreds of thousands of people who never planned to risk their lives, but do it for the sake of millions of others on the home front. They do this not for the money, but because they are citizens conscripted into the army to defend their country.
As Fukuyama so aptly said, national military obligation—that is, the willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice as the price of citizenship—is one of the foundations of a modern democratic state that brings people together and allows them to build something common. And it is this solidarity that the battle payments symbolize. They testify that even in times of difficulty, no matter how difficult it may be, we give the greatest respect to the soldiers who had the courage to go under enemy fire. Today in Ukraine, combat payments fulfill exactly the role for which they were once created.
And today this symbol is under threat. Not because of the shelling, not because of a lack of money, but because some people are manipulating their own combat payments. Payments for risking their lives are received by workers whose work has nothing to do with being in a combat zone; there are even some people who resort to service on the front line, visiting there briefly and occasionally.
Such actions are much more dangerous than simply ineffective or inappropriate use of funds. They destroy the basic structure in the social contract of our state. They destroy the fighters’ confidence that society recognizes and fairly evaluates their rank. They destroy the confidence of still undrafted citizens that if mobilized to the front line, they will gain unconditional respect and recognition of their civic action from everyone who remains outside the red zone.
The fairness of these payments must be unconditional. And the Ministry of Defense will protect them from discredit. Because it’s more than money. The feeling of iron solidarity around the exclusivity of fighters performing combat missions is what we need to build our iron dome over.
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