An illustration of how service pay has changed: In 1975 the scale ranged from $344.10 per month for the lowest enlisted pay grade with less than two years' service, up to $1,249.20 for the highest enlisted pay grade with more than 26 years of service. Today the enlisted scale ranges from a low of $573.60 up to $2,215.20.

A service member's basic pay is computed according to his or her rank and time in service. Promotions naturally bring raises with them, but the schedule also provides for periodic in-grade increases.

Aside from the basic monthly pay, service members authorized to reside off-base receive an allowance for living quarters that can range from $122.70 to $383.40. An additional $4.68 a day is paid to help defray the costs of meals. Allowances for quarters and meals are not taxable.

Among other benefits for active-duty members of all branches: free medical and dental care; cost-saving shopping privileges at exchange facilities and commissary stores; a $20,000 life insurance policy at low premiums, and 30 days' vacation with pay each year.

Because of the complexity involved in assigning dollar equivalents to benefits and tax breaks, it is difficult to compare military compensation with income in the civilian sector. According to Northwestern University Prof. Charles Moskos, however, the average Army private first class with less than two years' service draws a combined compensation package equivalent to an annual income of approximately $13,500 in the civilian economy.