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US Government Salaries: Marines and FSOs

Tim Brown has served both as a marine and as an FSO, so he can compare paychecks:

"I have been an enlisted Marine [1954-64]. including a tour as a Marine Embassy Guard [1956-59 in Managua], and a Foreign Service Officer [1965-92], having passed by FSO examns and been offered an FSO commission while still an enlisted Marine. Our first diplomatic post was Tel Aviv, then Madrid, then Vietnam, then Merida [Mexico]. In terms of actual income in hand, as an FSO I did not catch up to my Marine Sgt's until I had been promoted three times, from FSO-8 to FSO-5. While my FSO base pay was higher, I had to pay from it my own retirement, health insurance, housing in the US, and other expenses I did not have to pay out of my Marine Corps salary. Further, as a Marine I had several additional allowances - a family dependent's allowance, food and clothing allowances, and a monthly bonus for my language and intelligence skills, plus overseas allowances and, on occasion, hazardus duty pay. The Marine Corps also paid almost all my college expenses at night school for my first three years advanced education. Also, as a Marine, I would have been eligible for a lifetime pension at age 38, and for sizeable re-enlistment bonuses every 4-6 years until I did. As an FSO I had to wait until age 50 to retire, and was not eligible for additional allowances, retention bonuses, or most benefits I received as a Marine.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I was an dedicated Marine and thoroughly enjoyed my ten years Marine active duty. But I was an enlisted man, and left the Marines for the Foreign Service because they offered me a big promotion, and much better future opportunities, not because the pay was bad. I have a Navy CDR son-in-law and an FSO son, and we have compared real incomes several times. While FSO and military base pay is comparable at the same grade, when one adds in all the other benefits given the military, military compensation runs 30-50% above FSO compensation, without even taking into account the value of being able to retire 10 or 20 years earlier. Oh, and the State budget covers AID and a number of other expensive bureaucracies, and only a portion is available for Foreign Service salaries or operating expenses".

Ronald Hilton - 10/31/01