FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Last month the Department of Defense updated the regulation that covers Parachute Duty-Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay, enabling commanders, O5 and higher, to protect pay by waiving one jump during a 12-month period.
The pay rules were created in 1950 and saw only slight changes over the years. Those "legacy" rules held service members strictly to the one jump every three months rule. The updated rules provide commanders with exceptions to the three-month jump rule. The exceptions listed include nonavailability of jump equipment or aircraft, attendance at a military education or training of less than 179 days, or inclement weather.
"This is a small change, that can pay big dividends for our troopers," said Command Sgt. Major Charles Albertson, XVIII Airborne Corps command sergeant major. "This minor modification to the regulation gives commanders the flexibility to assess the circumstances of individual paratroopers and protect the pay of those that fall out of tolerance, due to no fault of their own."
During fiscal year 2016, 780 service members did not meet the three-month requirement and had to pay back a total of $535,962. Lost pay varied and for some it could be as much as six months of HDIP that was recouped. Many of those that lost pay had completed four or more jumps over the span of the 12 months.
For those at risk of losing pay, commanders in the grade of O-5 or above now have the option to waive the requirement for one jump during a 12-month period and cover one of the three-month pay periods. The service member must complete refresher training during the waived period to maintain proficiency. The appropriate commander, grade O-7 or above, may waive the minimum jump requirement when a service member is unable to perform a jump due to combat operations or being operationally deployed. Upon returning from deployment, the paratrooper must complete airborne refresher training and jump within 3 months to maintain proficiency.
The revision was initiated as a recommendation by Maj. Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, 82nd Airborne Division commanding general, to simplify the HDIP rules during a 2016 meeting of the Army Airborne Board.
The Secretary of the Army directed the formation of the AAB in 2015 and designated the XVIII Airborne Corps commanding general as the chairman and Army lead for conventional static line and aerial delivery operations, explained Tom Shoop, AAB operations officer. The board convenes twice a year to discuss issues related to airborne operations to better provide a unity of effort and "one voice" for the airborne enterprise. The board's membership includes 38 general officers and more than 50 senior field grade-level commanders and command sergeants major representing all three Army components and several commands within the Army.
"The pay revision is a simplified means to maintain both readiness (jump proficiency) and the continuation of hazardous duty pay," said Lt. Col. John Ives, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, XVIII Airborne Corps. "Having a simplified method to track proficiency, we can ensure ample opportunities for training and impress on our Soldiers it is their responsibility to ensure proficiency to maintain their hazardous duty pay."
Though this change was led by the leadership here, it will have an impact across the Department of Defense. The scenario of a scratched or cancelled jump is all too familiar for any service member who has served in an active parachutist position, but the situation can be more devastating for those serving in small units or locations where aircraft are not routinely available.
"It is a great change for the airborne community," added Command Sgt. Maj. Albertson. "It is an overdue, common sense solution to simple problem that financially burdens some of our paratroopers."
"The driving force for this change was the Deputy Chief, HQDA G1, Compensation and Entitlements Division," stated Shoop. "Mr. J.D. Riley is the one who carried the load for this initiative and met the Chairman's guidance."
The board is currently seeking approval for Jump Master Skill pay. According to Riley, the Headquarters Department of the Army has the legal authority to approve Jump Master Skill Pay, but it will need Office of the Secretary of Defense approval to publish the policy. The Jump Master Skill Pay could become policy this year. If so, it will provide an additional incentive to fill a key position and duty for all airborne units.