officer vs enlisted benefits jar of money

Officer vs. Enlisted: Differences in Benefits

Yep, I’m going there.

If you want to get a debate started with a quickness online, simply bring up this subject. You’ll have people speaking up who rarely do and others who are always outspoken become even more so.

Let’s examine the most common debates in the enlisted vs officer world of debate. And just for full disclosure — my husband was enlisted when he was in (he’s medically retired now).

1. The Pay Difference

Let’s take the military part out of it and look at it from a civilian perspective. Go into just about any business and you would expect to see those with college degrees who are in management to be earning more.

And the longer they stay, the higher their salary generally goes. Why shouldn’t the military be the same way? As it stands, officers who hold college degrees make more money.

Now I realize that some enlisted have college degrees as well. But they chose to go the enlisted route rather than the officer route.

I have an MBA but if I choose to work in a job that doesn’t require my degree, I can’t expect to be compensated for having one. The salary depends on the job, not necessarily on my education level.

I also believe that one thing that makes the pay difference so obvious in the military world is because the information is public. There are very few businesses in the civilian world where you can look up anyone’s salary online.

In most social circles, discussing salaries would be taboo as it is considered to be a personal and private subject. Not so in the military.

2. The Housing Difference

I would fully expect the senior lender of the bank to live in a nicer home than the customer service representative of the bank. He makes more money and so in most cases, he will have a larger and/or nicer home.

Why would that be different in the military?

A higher level of education and responsibility should equal increased benefits. Yes, they all put their lives on the line, and, yes, all of their jobs are important. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be differences between pay and benefits.

A janitor in a hospital is just as important as a nurse as far as being an employee of the hospital. But I’m sure everyone would expect that the nurse will be paid better than the janitor since the nurse has a higher education and a higher level of responsibility.

Let’s look at the housing allowances where we lived — Savannah. At the time my husband was in, the housing allowance for an E-4 with dependents was $1,179 and for an O-2 with dependents was $1,485.

Regardless of the type of housing they live in on post, they have to give up their entire housing allowance. Why should an O-2 have to pay $1,485 for the exact same house that an E-4 is paying $1,179 for?

They shouldn’t.

If you were renting in the civilian world, can you imagine if they found out what your job was and decided that you needed to pay an extra $300 more per month just because you make more?

3. Charges Based on Rank

Along the same lines as the housing allowance, military members also shouldn’t be charged differently based on their rank.

Can you imagine if you went to McDonald’s and had to show your tax return before they told you how much your hamburger would be? How crazy would that be?

Once at a spouses’ club meeting, we were voting on our next outing. We had chosen a restaurant downtown where lunch generally runs about $12 per person.

I realize that may be a tad pricey for some but if you really want to do something, I think just about everyone could come up with an extra $12.

One of the spouses of an enlisted soldier who was there made a big stink about it saying that enlisted spouses should not have to pay the same as officer spouses since their husbands made more. I literally sat there with my mouth on the floor.

The officer spouses who were there obviously felt badly and offered to add a few dollars to every officer wife meal in order to reduce the meal price for an enlisted wife by a few dollars.

Personally, I was furious.

The restaurant wasn’t checking IDs at the door. The meal is $12 regardless of if the Mayor is eating there or if it is a homeless person off the street. To expect the officer wives to pay more for the same meal so the enlisted wives could pay less was incredibly stupid.

And I happened to know this particular enlisted wife very well. She could have easily skipped her weekly manicure and had lunch if she wanted.

She was not unable to pay $12 for lunch and neither was I as a fellow wife of an enlisted soldier. If for some reason, I felt it was unreasonable, I would simply not go or suggest a less expensive option.

But I would never expect someone else to pick up my tab.

Now of course there are also those who try to use the fact that they’re married to an officer (or hell, sometimes it’s senior enlisted) to prove they’re better than the next person.

That’s another subject entirely – and one I’m sure we’ll tackle in the future as well.

author avatar
Stacey Abler
Stacey's husband joined the Army in 2003 and was medically retired after four deployments. She enjoys sharing her experiences and expertise around Army life while continuing to support Army spouses and families in their military journey.

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  1. the issue that I find is that when it comes to MWR affairs or FRG affairs that senior NCO’s or officers wives run (and I am currently a senior nco wife) they tend to pick events that they can afford and not think of the junior nco wives budget. The fact that the restaurant would charge $12. to mayor or homeless person is correct but, guess what, the homeless person knows that they can’t afford it so its not a place they entertain. So, when junior nco families are eating at denny’s on date night, don’t be mad because they can’t afford olive garden. olive garden wasn’t on their radar, it was on yours.If you insist that a function be held at a more expensive place, that is your choice. If you don’t want to exclude the junior enlisted wives then supplement the gap. Or pick somewhere everyone can afford or do picnics where people can contribute what they can or free events, like museums where the issue is comroderie and not finances. remember too enlisted get hit up all the time for $10. here for this families new baby (they have never met) or someones hail and farewell party. A lot of cash goes back into army units out of very limited army pay.As a senior nco wife with a kid in college and being hit by the recession too, I don’t go to many events.

  2. i didn’t originally catch the part about the one wife and her nails. We shouldn’t judge on getting on “extras”. Maybe in her limited budget, getting her nails done is what keeps her sane. Her treat to herself. Yes to you thats $12. to go to lunch but to her, thats in place of the massage she really needs or its her one hour away from kids during week, or the one thing that keeps her feeling like a woman not just a mom and wife, or sexy for her man. That $12. might not be up for negotiation.I saw you wrote and I said, I don’t go if I can’t afford, but many times I did wonder why the wives kept picking places I can’t afford. I just feel these decisions should be based on everyones finances, not just those with supposed more money.

  3. There are a myriad of issues that I have with your post, but I don’t want to spend too much time dissecting it at the moment so I will only address your segment about pay.

    Currently I am enlisted in the Air Force w/o a degree so perhaps my opinion is biased. But, the issue that I have with pay is that enlisted vs officer pay is well out of proportion to the scope and responsibilities of the job. For instance, in the Air Force most of the officer I have met do jobs that we could train an enlisted personnel to do yet a CMSgt whose spent over 20 years in the military makes as much as a Captain with only 5. Does a person with a degree and only 5 years of experience produce the same value as a Chief, or any other enlisted personnel with the same level of experience?

    I do agree that their should be pay differences between officer/enlisted, but they shouldn’t be so egregious. Furthermore, it is beginning to become a requirement for enlisted personnel who want to progress in their career to have a degree. Especially at senior NCO levels. In your post you say that someone who has a degree and chooses to stay enlisted does not deserve the salary increase because their job doesn’t require a degree. Why not? At senior NCO levels you are required to make decisions that have wide-ranging implications. In making these decisions you are required to use graduate-level critical thinking to determine the most effective course of action. Yet, you still receive not even half the pay of officers at lower levels making the same decisions.

    In my opinion the Air Force (or military) is trying to be cheap, and get more “bang for their buck” by holding promotion over people’s head to force them to get a degree rather then forking over the salary bump the person justly deserves. Honestly, if you’re planning to do a career in the military, other than the incentive (or extortion) of promotion, why the heck would you waste your time getting a degree?

    There so much more I want to say, but I’ve already spent too much time on this topic. In short, the large chasm between officer and enlisted pay is a sham, and the military should be ashamed that it extorts the labor of its own.

    1. I completely agree with you! I don’t think I should have to pay more just because my husband is an officer and it makes me upset that people bring up the pay difference. They do not know my life and what expenses we have. We are stationed overseas and it was hard for me to find a job. I managed to find one and it didn’t go so well. I was the only officer spouse working there and I was constantly asked why I worked since my husband made so much money. Ummm excuse me? First of all that is my business and I have bills to pay for example student loans for a degree I worked so hard to get, a vehicle in the states, among other things. I was told that it was not fair that my husband got paid so much or that we had nicer houses. None of these things are up to me so I don’t see why it even has to come up. I just really can’t get behind having to pay more just because my husband is an officer. That is the reason i don’t go to events when it is like that, because it’s just not fair. Like outside the military regardless of what your occupation is you would have to pay the same price for things. Most enlisted spouses are so quick to say that officer spouses are the ones that are snooty and judge people according to rank, but in my experience they were the ones like that. I never like to speak about my husband’s rank or job because I can already hear the comments. At my job the other spouses all threw their husbands ranks at me without knowing that one my husband is an officer and two that he is a fighter pilot. Automatically after that I was treated differently which is not fair because to me we are all the same and I don’t care what their husbands do or how much they make. It is not my business.

  4. The key words are “officer wives making all the decisions”. I can see how that could be taken as disparaging and disrespectful to an NCO wife. A 1st Sgt.s wife has probably participated in 2 to 6 command teams. The Captians wife…we’ll…this is probably her first. Yet the NCO wife can often times be left out and treated as the 2nd class citizen. Since spouses have no rank, then shouldn’t they all be considered equal? Simply wives with kids who have spouses serving in the military and want to be a part and help? Yet there always seems to be clicks and divisions. I have seen Officer wives put themselves above other wives and that is very sad because outside the gates of the post, well, no one really cares what our husbands do for work now do they. The best senior spouses should be extra careful to make sure this never happens while there husband’s are serving on a command. Regarding the pay. Yes officers have responsibilities and there are some really great Officers out there who deserve it. There are also bad ones. Simply going to school does not ensure you will be a good leader. Great leaders are pretty much born that way. It’s not something you learn reading a book. I think what the NCO spouses are saying is yes an officer has a degree but what does a degree in Photography or Art history or Physical Education give you that makes you a better a soldier? And what about the NCO that has a higher degree of education than and Officer? When you sign up for the military you sign up for a job description. Officers are more admins. Not everyone wants to be an admin. NCO crave being out in the field in the trenches training soldiers. Thank God someone who is passionate about it is willing to do it. It’s not about easier, or harder, or smarter or dumber, it’s just different. Every Officer, at every level is paired with a more experienced Senior NCO to guide them and train them yet that senior NCO isn’t the one being called “Sir” and that NCO makes considerably less yet without them that Officer would certainly fail. I’ll bet you most times any Officer that goes down because he didn’t perform well, well…..his NCO is probably going right down with him and yet that NCO never has the final word so who’s really taking the biggest risk? Officers say they spend more time in training and classes right. Well who’s pulling the extra deployments while they are in a classroom? Who’s wives and children are sacrificing more time with their father/spouse. The arguments could go on forever. I think both Officers and NCO’s play extremely important roles in our military. Different yet equally important. I agree if the Officers feel they have too much responsibility then spread it out. I’m sure the NCO’s would appreciate the extra pay. Just my opinion. Thanks for letting me share.

  5. The stupidest thing I have heard an officers’s wife say is that at her child’s school there must be a lot of NCO’s because the parking lot had a lot of Pintos in it . My first thought was how classless to make such a comment …class discrimination it seems to me. I think that some spouses need a wake up call…be proud of your husband …but have your own achievements in life . When I see a spouse who wears a rank I always feel sorry for them .

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