CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Marines deployed to Iraq who are blue from desert life can find consolation in knowing there is some tax-free green accumulating in their bank accounts.
With the recent deployment of the I Marine Expeditionary Force to Iraq, Marines and sailors are raking in more dough than they would in the states, due to various entitlements added onto their basic pay.
Many Marines say they will have saved more than $11,000 by the time they go home, some raking in double their basic salary. The icing on the cake is the fact that pay earned here can't be taxed because Iraq is a combat zone.
"I'll have enough money to put in savings and on a down payment on a car," said Lance Cpl. Tirian M. Smikle, 20, a 1st Force Service Support Group legal assistant originally from Miami.
Smikle also plans on taking a trip to Jamaica, where she was born, when she returns stateside.
While in Iraq, Marines are entitled to imminent danger pay, an extra $225 per month for being dispatched to a designated combat zone.
On top of that, troops rate a windfall for receiving orders to serve in an area labeled as a hardship duty station. The bonus varies location to location; those in Iraq are receiving $100 a month.
Marines with dependents receive even more extra cash to make sure their families are taken care of. Family separations pay puts an extra $250 a month into their wallets.
The entitlements for imminent danger, family separations and hardship duty were increased April 2003.
Before the raise, imminent danger pay was $150 per month, being apart from family gave troops an extra $100 every month, and an additional $50 per month was tacked on for being stationed in Iraq.
Those who chose to live off base in the states also continue to receive their basic allowance for housing while deployed, allowing them to keep their homes while they are away and easing concerns about the financial security of their families.
Staff Sgt. Travis E. Burks, 32, 1st Force Service Support Group's legal services chief, volunteered to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom last year, but didn't end up going. This time, he was at the top of the list.
"The timing was right with respect to family dynamics," said Burks. "My wife is about to finish school and begin teaching, and my son is at an age where my absence won't have a negative impact."
He said the extra entitlements are definitely a morale booster.
"I'll miss my ninth wedding anniversary on this deployment," he said. "I'm not thrilled about that fact, but the extra entitlements saved during the deployment will be there next summer when we celebrate our tenth. Our plans currently are to do something grander than we otherwise would have done."
He mentioned that he only spends about $50 out of every paycheck, saving the rest for when he gets home.
Not all financial benefits come to Marines through their paychecks, though.
The Savings Deposit Program allows deployed Marines to pool up to $10,000 into an account that gains ten percent interest per year, said Gunnery Sgt. David M. Coleman, the 1st FSSG's administration chief.
While some Marines choose to put their money into other investments with the risk of losing it, the deposit program is a no-lose situation, he said
Those who choose to take advantage of the program can leave money in the account to accumulate interest for up to three months after a deployment. Interest earned is taxable, however.
While one will commonly hear Marines talking about the "great pay," it is also not uncommon to hear 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Jonathan C. LaRoch's sentiments.
"It's nice, but I'm not doing this for the money," said the administrative clerk, originally from Los Angeles. "If you're in this business for the money, you're in the wrong business."