The Pay Scale for Military Officers


As the leaders of the United States military, commissioned officers are entitled to a higher amount of pay than their enlisted counterparts. With a few minor exceptions, the pay scale for officers tends to increase as they progress in rank and spend more time in the service. Calculating officer pay, however, is not always a straight forward process as each service member is entitled to a number of different pay allowances that vary depending on specialty and circumstance.

Basic Pay

  • The most static component of a military officer's total salary is basic pay. This amount of pay, which is essentially the equivalent of a base salary, is based on an officer's rank and amount of time in service. The basic pay scale is displayed each fiscal year in a chart published by the Department of Defense and is applicable to all service members in every branch of the military. According to the pay scale, all officers in the military earn more in basic pay than their enlisted counterparts of an equivalent experience level. For example, in fiscal year 2010 an O-1 (a new officer of the lowest rank in any branch) with one year of experience would make $2,745.60 a month in basic pay. An E-1 (a new enlistee with the lowest rank in any branch) with one year of experience, meanwhile, makes just over half of that at $1,447.20 a month.

Basic Allowance for Housing

  • In addition to basic pay, all military members living off-base in civilian quarters receive a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to cover the cost of shelter--whether it is in the form of rent or a mortgage payment. The amount of BAH received each month depends on the service member's rank, whether or not she has dependents and the cost of living at her current location. Like with basic pay, officers earn more BAH than enlisted members of a similar experience level. The higher the rank a service member holds, the more BAH received. Note: Officers (as well as enlisted members) living in government quarters are not eligible to receive BAH.

Basic Allowance for Subsistence

  • Members of the armed forces also receive a Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) to cover the cost of food and other materials necessary for survival. The amount of BAS received by officers is fixed and does not fluctuate with a change in rank. In fiscal year 2010, officers received $233.04 a month (or roughly $7.79 a day) in BAS. BAS is one of the few areas where officers earn less than enlisted members. In 2010, enlisted members earned $323.87 a month in BAS.

Special Pay

  • While the majority of pay for an average officer is made up of basic pay, BAH and BAS, those employed in certain careers or serving in certain environments are entitled to certain incentives. These special pay amounts are given to those serving in careers that require certain complex skills or those serving in dangerous environments. Examples of special pays include Hazardous Duty Incentive Pays, Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay, Aviation Career Incentive Pay (or flight pay) and Foreign Language Proficiency Pay.

Calculating Pay

  • Once all of an officer's allowances and pay amounts have been determined, they can be combined to estimate his total salary. For example, a married Air Force second lieutenant (O-1) in pilot training with one year of experience living in Del Rio, Texas would earn $49,867.68 a year before taxes. As a military officer's rank and experience increases, his pay will also increase as both basic pay and BAH will go up.

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