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Clothing Allowances Help Enlisted; Leave Officers Cold

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 19, 2000 – Clothing allowances help enlisted service members to replace worn-out uniform items and to purchase new items. But, thanks to a 50-year-old law, officers are left cold.

The annual enlisted allowance is based on the number of items a service member is required to have and actual uniform prices, said Susan Fox, a Defense Logistics Agency budget analyst at Fort Belvoir, Va. The allowance varies by gender and service. They range from a low of $205.20 for male Air Force airmen with less than three years' service to $464.40 for female Marines with more than three years' service.

In the earliest days of the American Army, all soldiers were responsible for outfitting themselves. In 1775, an order was issued directing all soldiers to "furnish themselves accordingly" with different colored plumes to distinguish commissioned officers, noncommissioned officers and enlisted soldiers. During much of the Revolutionary War uniforms were a luxury, with most soldiers not even having adequate clothing to protect them from the weather.

Baron Friedrich von Steuben remarked at Valley Forge, Pa., during the winter of 1777-78, "The naked situation of the troops, when observed parading for duty, is sufficient to exhort the tears of compassion from every human being. There are not two in five who have a shoe, stocking or so much as breeches to render them decent."

Military records from 1789 show a captain's pay at $30 per month. A sergeant received $5 and a private, $3, but the government deducted $1.40 from the sergeant's pay and 90 cents from the private's to pay for issued uniforms -- generally one suit of clothes with an extra pair of shoes and shirt, according to an 1895 Quartermaster Corps report. There was no mention of deductions from officers' pay.

Gradually between 1789 and the Civil War, the trend reversed. Civil War-era officers were often responsible for arriving at their units already outfitted in that unit's distinctive uniform style. This practice was written into law in the Career Compensation Act of 1949.

"Whenever an officer goes into the service, he does so knowing he will be required to subsist himself," the act states. "Any time a man enlists in the service, the law requires that the Government subsist that man. ... Under that contract, they agree to feed him, clothe him, and shelter him. But there is no contract with the officer."

Officers were granted some relief in the 1981 Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, which authorized "the payment of an initial uniform allowance in the maximum amount of $200."

The reserve components handle the matter of uniforms differently. According to a DoD personnel official, the services replace enlisted reserve component members' worn- out uniform items in kind, not with cash.

Reserve component officers receive the initial $200 allowance and, with two caveats, up to an additional $100 each time they serve on active duty for more than 90 days. To qualify for the extra money, they must not be entering active duty within two years of completing a previous 90- day stint on active duty, and they must not have received their initial $200 allowance within two years.

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