Above: Company B, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry
The Pay Officer
Article by Tom Rozman
The pay officer is a duty that has pretty much disappeared from the current establishments of many armies with the advent of the electronic accounting and exchange systems of today. The duty nevertheless illustrates some aspects of the leadership mechanism in the company size unit. From time to time to the present establishments, duties and tasks along these lines present themselves to the company grade officer. Though these duties may not at first be perceived as an aspect of leadership, they are an element of the leader role in a company that is perhaps more important than we realize on several levels.
The following vignette revisits a pay officer in performance of this duty in a more difficult environment than normally encountered at the time. It explores the leadership aspects that were in play.
Per 2nd Infantry Division regulations the company pay officer, a 1st lieutenant, donned his Class A uniform. This would not be the most comfortable uniform for the long day ahead with the full skirted blouse, tie and low quarter shoes. Under arms this was an even less handy outfit. It was 0430 hours.
The lieutenant had to walk the quarter mile to the company’s Quonset hut barracks from the Bachelors officer’s quarters. Once in the company he had to draw an M1911A1 pistol and a full magazine of ammunition at the arms room. He would then rendezvous with his driver and accompanying non-commissioned officer, all armed, dispatch a company M151 ¼ ton truck (jeep) and drive to 2nd Division Finance. There he would draw the company’s payroll. Though the Army was encouraging soldiers to adopt direct deposit to a bank soldiers still had the option of direct pay in cash. The amount would be over $20,000 in bills and change, a significant amount of money at the time.
With other assembling pay officers from across the division the lieutenant moved through the security check at finance and to the finance clerk he was directed to. He counted out the company’s payroll verifying it to the company roster. The roster and the payroll matched. Finance had done a good job.
The lieutenant had been a company pay officer several times previously but at Ft. Hood, Texas for larger mechanized infantry units. The payrolls had been somewhat larger. The experience of traversing the open areas from 1st Cavalry Division Finance to the cantonment area of the company in an open jeep seemed a risky business on a huge open post like Ft. Hood. But the pay officer, his NCO and driver resolutely executed the duty. No incidents had occurred though incidents had developed elsewhere—one pay officer had been found murdered at Ft. Benning, Georgia. On the paydays at Ft. Hood all soldiers had been in the company area allowing for the pay to be issued with return to finance by early afternoon and verifying accounts soon afterward.
At the time, the Army was beginning its campaign mentioned to encourage soldiers to move to the direct pay to their bank system accounts. But the culture at the time for many was to be paid in cash. Within a few years, direct pay would be mandatory but for the moment the pay officer in an old Army institution, continued to perform his duty come what may.
The 2nd Division being in Korea, a forward deployed Army formation, payday could be a challenge for a pay officer. It would prove the case on this payday.
After verifying the payroll, the lieutenant returned to the company’s jeep and the two other members of the pay team, the driver and the NCO guard. They drove back the several miles from division to the company. The mess hall Quonset hut structure was the largest covered and out of the weather space in the company and with its tables and chairs the ideal facility from which to pay the troops. Tables had been arranged and other personnel were present for the various pay “contributions and deductions.”
The lieutenant was set up and ready to pay by 0900. All men in the company and on details that had to be cycled into the payline had been paid by 1530. The pay team then moved back to the division area in the company pay jeep to the Division Aid Station operated by the 2nd Medical Battalion, a small hospital in effect of some 15 beds in a Quonset hut building. A company sergeant who had fallen into one of the three foot deep stone lined drainage ditches in the company area was recovering from a staph infection.
The sergeant was paid and the pay team departed Camp Casey on Highway 1 south heading for the MASH at Camp Red Cloud, Uijeongbu (4077th MASH (Mobile Auxiliary Support Hospital)–the actual MASH unit depicted in the movie and TV series) where another soldier of the company was hospitalized. It was 1630. The team covered the 12 or so miles in the open jeep and reached the MASH. The soldier was paid and the team was on the road to Seoul by 1730.
The jeep then drove the remaining 12 miles at regulation speed in an open jeep to Seoul. A company soldier was in hospital at the 120th Medical Evacuation Hospital in Yongson. Due to a delay in route the jeep did not arrive at the hospital area until 1830. The pay officer was not able to pay the soldier until 1930. Due to the timing of the curfew that applied to vehicle operations heading north the pay team would secure their vehicle and weapons and billet in Yongsan overnight returning north to Deongducheon the next morning.
On return to the division area the team made its way back to Finance and reconciled the pay account. All was in order. The team returned to the company.
The jeep was returned to the motor pool where the operator performed after operations checks and all weapons were returned to the arms room. An extended payday came to a close.
Perhaps one of the most important events in a soldier’s normal routine, payday was in these times a critical function of the Army system. The officers detailed to the pay duties had a day that was manageable but warranted care in that management. And it needed to be done well and properly. Screwing it up not only had ramifications for the officer but could have a negative effect on the soldiers of a unit. An efficient well done payday, though something of an ordeal, particularly for the officer, was nevertheless a thing of orderly beauty done right. When well performed it signaled to the soldiers that their “house was in order” a powerful reinforcement to their morale.
As a leadership exercise there were several levels at work on payday, but the most significant, some officers assigned the duty were greatly affected by the idea of hauling around big bundles of cash in an open jeep. For some pay officers the psychological burden caused a few interesting situations. The pay officer had to steel the mind to the duty and carry it out and do it well setting the example in front of the pay team and in the pay line. A shaky pay officer was not a thing of beauty or something that reinforced confidence among rank and file.
On this particular payday with so many to be paid and at four different locations, the situation made for a long day for the pay team. But, thanks to the leadership demonstrated by each soldier of the pay team in his performance of duty, the team did its duty and did it well. The company was paid, even the invalided soldier at the evacuation hospital some 50 miles south from the company’s location, reinforcing company morale and confidence in the company’s leadership and its commitment to the troops.