Elite troops get more pay to stay
Extra money helps ensure JTF2 soldiers don't go work for private firms
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Special forces units ranging from Canada's Joint Task Force 2 to the British Special Air Service are hiking pay in an effort to stem the flow of skilled personnel to private military firms.
Soldiers with the Dwyer Hill-based JTF2 will have their pay boosted through various means this year in recognition of their skills and the hardships they face on the job in places such as Afghanistan.
Several weeks ago, British military leaders approved a 50-per-cent pay hike for those in the country's special forces -- the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service -- to try to stop soldiers from leaving to take jobs as guns-for-hire with firms in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. military also brought in a series of pay hikes and bonuses a couple of years ago to deal with the same issue.
Canadian Forces spokeswoman Cmdr. Denise LaViolette said the increases in financial compensation for JTF2 were not brought specifically because people were leaving the unit for the private sector.
"Allowances are reviewed on a regular basis for everyone," she said.
"It wasn't specific to the issue of going to other groups or leaving DND. It was, that we have a system in place, they regularly get reviewed, they were found to be lacking, (so) we increased them," Cmdr. LaViolette said.
However, she did acknowledge the end result of making such compensation competitive to the private sector is that personnel will consider staying with the unit.
But Senator Colin Kenny, chairman of the Senate's national security and defence committee, said the allowance improvements are directly related to the fact that JTF2 has been losing highly-skilled personnel to the private sector. He questioned why the military would not acknowledge the obvious.
"If they don't want to call it a retention allowance, fine, but the bottom line is that you have people who like a certain kind of work and that work is available these days in both the public and the private sector," said Mr. Kenny.
A March 13 background document produced by the Defence Department on the JTF2 allowances notes the money compensates for various hardships, including conditions of work and risk involved with serving in the unit.
The JTF2 allowance has been increased based on qualifying service, with annual compensation ranging from $7,488 to $8,964 for general support personnel, from $13,680 to $16,356 for close support personnel and from $21,756 to $25,260 for "assaulters."
The compensation scheme also includes special allowances for certain skills. A special operations assaulter allowance sees annual compensation ranging from $15,000 for those commandos with less than two years' qualifying service as an assaulter to $39,576 for those with 14 years or more qualifying service.
Assaulters are considered the fighting edge of JTF2 and are serving in Afghanistan and are on duty for counter-terrorism missions in Canada.
The compensation is on top of the regular military salary and benefits, which are based on rank.
Records previously released under the Access to Information law have shown that JTF2 officers are concerned the unit is losing personnel to private military firms. Former JTF2 have found work as guns-for-hire with such companies in Africa and Iraq.
Mr. Kenny said he believes military personnel enjoy serving in JTF2 and would prefer doing such work within the Canadian Forces.
"But if someone is going to come along and offer them silly amounts of money, they know they're in a high-risk occupation, they have families, they have a future to think about and they also know they have a fairly limited shelf-life, particularly if they are an assaulter," he explained.
Mr. Kenny noted that being an assaulter "is a young man's game."
He said it is likely that the military will have to further increase such allowances to retain such troops.
But other defence analysts, as well as some contract soldiers themselves, have suggested the flow of special forces from western nations to the private sector is slowing as security firms turn to troops from developing nations, who will work for less.
In the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, private security firms were paying around $1,000 a day for highly dangerous jobs for the former special forces members from the U.S. and Britain.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2006
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