Military pay is determined by rank and length of service—and it’s gotten better in the last decade, largely to attract and keep good people. Since 2002, according to the Defense Department, military pay has risen by 42 percent, housing allowances 83 percent, and the subsistence (or food) allowance 40 percent. That compares with a 32-percent rise in private-sector salaries.
The average junior enlisted member, typically with a high-school degree, earns about $43,000 a year—and that doesn’t include special pay, bonuses, free medical care, and government-paid retirement.
With 40-plus years of experience, the highest-ranking military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, makes $239,803.20 in base pay.
Here are base salaries for selected ranks.
Private 1st Class (3 years), $23,076.
Master sergeant (30 years), $64,032.
Sergeant major (38 years), $85,152.
Warrant officer (40 years), $105,624.
Second lieutenant, $32,940 to $41,448.
Captain, $43,920 to $71,460.
Lieutenant colonel, $57,900 to $98,376.
Brigadier general, $93,708 to $140,018.
General (20 years), $179,700.
This feature first appeared in the November 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.