South Vietnam - Pay and Allowances

The low base pay and allowances set for the men in the armed forces had a direct influence on desertions and morale. The South Vietnam armed forces pay system did not include a ration allowance; subsistence-in-kind or increased pay would have improved the system, but whatever measures were adopted had to be flexible enough to meet local conditions. U.S. help might be extended in several ways; one of the most practical was assistance-in-kind in the form of staples. The South Vietnam government would pay for the items, and the United States would use the money for expenses in South Vietnam. Captured rice was another source of rations. The MACV commander directed the commanding general of U.S. Army, Vietnam, to assume responsibility for improving field ration utilization, for garrison ration commodities, and for the distribution system. When the field ration was issued, 33 piasters (about 25 cents) was deducted from the soldier's pay; as this reduction lowered the food-buying power of the family man, he preferred not to receive the ration and sold it when it was issued to him. Thus the United States recommended that the ration be issued free of charge and in lieu of pay increases. The garrison ration consisted of certain basic foods distributed through South Vietnam armed forces quartermaster depots at fixed prices and locally procured perishables and was supported through payroll deductions. Only rice was occasionally short, and U.S. Army, Vietnam, requested that the South Vietnam government ensure that sufficient allocations of rice be made available to the Vietnamese armed forces. Also noteworthy was the establishment for the first time, on 21 February 1967, of unit messes in regular armed forces and Regional Forces company-size units.

The base pay for single individuals was well below the average standard of living pay scale in Vietnam, and in August 1971 single members were accounting for 65 percent of the total desertions in combat units. The South Vietnam government had taken token action early in the year to provide incentive pay for combat personnel. On 9 February the South Vietnam Prime Minister prescribed a temporary special allowance of 100 plasters (37) per day military personnel and for the Ministry of Defense civilians who were participating in operations and support missions outside South Vietnam.

On 8 March the government increased the cost of living allowance for regular forces and Regional Forces by 100 piasters per month for each service member, his legal wife, and each of his supported children. The base pay for members of the Popular Forces was increased by 100 piasters per month, and the cost of living allowance for his legal wife and each of his supported children was increased by a similar amount.

Recognizing that a substantial pay increase was needed for the armed forces and government employees, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, in coordination with the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Agency for International Development, conducted a study of the armed forces pay scales during August 1971. Addressing the grave problem of procurement and retention within the combat infantry battalions, Military Assistance Command recommended across-the-board percentage increases (28 percent) in base pay, incentive pay for the South Vietnam Army combat units (4,500 piasters) and Regional Forces mobile battalions (2,000 plasters), and an increase in death gratuity payments. General Abrams submitted the pay proposal to the Minister of National Defense in September 1971, and the following November the government increased the cost of living allowance for all service members and civil servants by 1,200 piasters ($2.80) per man per month and authorized incentive pay as proposed by Military Assistance Command.

Subsequently the Chief, Joint General Staff, sought the MACV commander's assistance in seeking to obtain 4,500 piasters ($11.00) incentive pay for other "crack troops" who were excluded from the framework of the new pay measure. In response, General Abrams counseled that "in determining the best application of the military pay raise, primary consideration was given those units [combat infantry battalions] experiencing grave procurement and retention problems" and "any deviation to the current list [of authorized units] would be in contradiction of the stated purpose of the allowance and invite requests for exceptions from other services and arms." However, on 15 December the South Vietnam government's Ministerial Decree 1215 extended the incentive pay, without the MACV commander's sanction, to reconnaissance companies, shock companies, and scout companies subordinate to the 81st Ranger Group (Airborne) and to certain personnel assigned to the technical directorates.

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