Enlisted men are still hideously underpaid.
A new recruit (E1) still makes less than $1500 a month (granted he is given rations and quarters). A perfect demonstration that the rank of 'Private' and the word 'privation' have similar roots. A new sergeant (E5) only makes $2305.00 in basic pay. Both are hideously underpaid. (I am plucking these figures from the 'years in service' columns that make sense for the grades discussed.)
A brigadier general (O7, one star) with 30 years service makes $11,320 basic pay (quarters and rations additional) which may be a just teeny bit overpaid; but brigadiers work hard and there needs to be a monetary attraction to make folks work hard for this first, most difficult promotion to flag rank.
But if you prove to Congress and the President that you really know how to play the game with successful Pentagon assignments, joint assignments, successful visits to the Command & General Staff College and the War College, successful combat commands (few), and solid sponsorship from the ranks above you, then when you pin on either 3 or 4 stars, your income is more like $16,000 or $17,000 per month. If you are a senior member of the Joint Chiefs or a major combat command commander, then your pay is $19,983. Definitely overpaid IF you consider the $1,447 that the raw recruit is paid. If you are an O-6 (full bull colonel) then you make a well-earned $9,334.
Overpaid? Only if you are a proven politician. Like pays like. After all, if you have 3 or 4 stars on your collar or shoulder (or sleeve, for you benighted goat guys) you have a lot of political influence and Congress feels you should be paid accordingly.
The Pentagon could easily find the money to support the current pay structure if they will simply look more toward defending our country than toward having big, hugely expensive 'systems' for the O-9s and 0-10's (3 and 4 stars) to play around with.
That was why I was all for cancelling the F-22 and concentrating on the F-35 (which is now rapidly becoming as expensive as the F-22). Above a certain price point, senior officers are going to be unwilling to sacrifice their hardware in battle. And as Stalin said, quantity has a quality all its own. If we put 8 F-22s up against 100 Chinese cheap fighters, we are going to lose a couple or a few more. And the generals will then turn to the politicians for a 'political solution' to the conflict which means surrender or a settlement that citizens will be unwilling to live with. And the way we see the O9s and O10s fight for these systems for their O8s to manage, we can suspect that they have more affection for these systems than they have for their soldiers.
But managing an expensive and complex 'system' program is the only reliable way that a 2 star (08) can 'earn his spurs' in peacetime or a time of low intensity conflict, so these 'systems' persist and multiply. Some are justified, but they must be chosen very, very carefully.
We need to continue to remember that to the E4 who just lost a leg in a roadside IED explosion, even a 'low intensity conflict' is very intense indeed.
We need to value and reward the human element in our forces, and do away with expensive combat systems that are to precious to lose in combat and continue to instill a warrior spirit that does not place too much value on 'courageous restraint'.