Incentives for military personnel to perform well in military exercises

Other than avoiding rust and honing one’s fighting skills, what particular incentives are there for military personnel who participate in military exercises like RIMPAC, REFORGER, etc.?

Do they get paid combat-bonus pay like as if it were real war, and do they get graded (those who perform well might get promoted and those who perform badly get demoted,) etc.?

I don’t believe there is any immediate material reward like a pay bonus involved. But the military works hard in creating pride among its members for their units. There’s also the motivation in the performance in exercises is noted; good performance is likely to lead to future promotions and bad performance is likely to lead to more training. And there’s the big factor which you noted; military units might be called into combat where their job performance might determine whether or not they remain alive. That’s a pretty big incentive to do your job well.

If you take someone and make them lean and fit; then give them a skill, I doubt that it takes much incentive to get them to exercise that skill. These war games are usually presented as being competitive and any member of the armed forces relishes the chance to ‘beat’ a rival team.

also they do sometimes have to cutback on troops , like a layoff for private business, and if you are at the top of your group you are not likely to get laid off.

Most recognize that their skills – particularly the physical ones – need to be constantly honed to stay sharp. I was awarded the Expert Pistol Marksman medal early in my career. Sometime later, about two years since I’d touched a pistol, when someone spotting my ribbon asked, “Are you a marksman?”
“Not any more,” was my truthful reply.

And, as has been mentioned above, military people by nature tend to be competitive. Sailors will do anything to get that coveted E for their department or ship. I would imagine the other branches are no less so.

I served in the Navy years ago as a junior officer aboard a submarine, and participated in numerous military exercises while on board.

As I did for my entire time onboard, I worked my tail off. It was by far the hardest I ever worked in my life. Over the course of my entire tour (~3 years), I got only a handful of days off. In port, I typically worked 80-hour weeks, sometimes more. At sea, I worked every waking moment, and was always short on sleep.

We normally worked a rotating 3-shift schedule around the clock (6 hours on watch, 12 hours off, with training and drills scheduled during the “off” hours). Exercises were even worse, because we would typically be in a “Battle Stations” situation in which every crew member was up. A typical exercise scenario would take 12 hours/day for a week or two. After each daily scenario, we’d go back to the normal rotating shift, so if you were scheduled to be on watch all night (operating the sub), you stayed up all night, then were back up for Battle Stations the next day. It was grueling.

So why did I work so hard? Like many people who join the military, I was young, enthusiastic, patriotic, and highly motivated to succeed. In addition, we were all constantly being evaluated by our superiors against our peers, and for a commissioned officer, the mantra is “up or out” (i.e. get promoted or be forced out). There are many junior officers and relatively few captains and admirals, so competition is stiff.

P.S. I never really did slack off onboard, even after I realized that the game was rigged. In other words, the top evaluations weren’t strictly based on performance, but on connections and favoritism. In not realizing that sooner, I was somewhat naive and overly idealistic.

In the U.S. military, at least, military personnel absolutely do not get “combat pay” (Hazardous Duty Pay) for participating in a war game. You get combat pay for, you know, serving in combat.*

Depending on the details of the exercise and the personnel serving, they would get normal “deployment” pay. As a Reservist, for example, I got Basic Allowance for Housing to help cover my rent while I was on Active Duty. So if I was activated to participate in an exercise, and if the period of activation lasted long enough (I think it must be 30+ days), I’d get that. If the war game lasted long enough (they generally don’t), both reservists and active duty folks would get Family Separation pay. There’s no specific pay bonus for participating in a training exercise, though. That’s just literally part of the job.

Units of sufficient size are usually evaluated, either formally or informally through their chain of command. For example, a Battalion would normally provide at least an informal evaluation of how each of their Companies performed, but that’s not really the point of a war game.

Individuals aren’t normally formally evaluated, though there’s going to be lots of informal evaluation and feedback. In the U.S. Army, anyway, individual performance in major exercises will have an indirect evaluation, as it’s likely to be a bullet point in an NCOER or OER (Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Report or Officer Efficiency Report), which are evaluations all NCOs and Officers in the U.S. Army receive on a regular basis. There’s no specific evalution, AFAIK, of anyone’s individual performance in a war game. Again, that’s not really the point.

Anyway, in real life, no one gets promoted for a single exceptional action. There are elaborate bureaucratic procedures managing promotions of NCOs and Officers (for junior enlisted, promotions are more or less automatic as long as you don’t screw up). Demotion only occurs as a punishment for severe infractions that fall short of a court martial, and is pretty rare.

The purpose of war games isn’t actually to win them. It’s to train personnel in realistic conditions, shake out gear, and generally get people involved used to how things actually physically operate in the field. To a lesser extent, they also help planners to test and evaluate doctrines and procedures. And, for international exercises, they are often at least as much about alliance politics and sending messages to potential adversaries as they are about the actual happenings on the ground.

Unless someone really screws up, no one is going to get disciplined for a “poor” performance in a war game. At the National Training Center, the OPFOR (the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment) was/is infamous for almost always “winning” war games against the units that went there to train. During the Cold War, when it served as a stand-in for Soviet forces, it was only sort of jokingly called the finest Soviet Rifle Regiment in the world.

*Well, not really. You get HDP for serving in a designated Combat Zone, whether or not you personally actually engage in combat.

I also suspect that when the brass is doing their post-mortem of the exercises, you really don’t want to have been the commander of a unit that stands out for not doing what they were supposed to be, or who didn’t follow orders correctly.

And I suspect that carries down the chain of command; you don’t want to be the guy who stands out for not having done their job well.

The only reward I ever saw in the Navy was the “Battle Efficiency Award”, now called the “Battle Effectiveness Award”, which is given to ships or units that best demonstrate their readiness to go to war.

NOT SNARKY: I have to assume OP doesn’t have any military experience. Not because the question admits ignorance of immediate performance incentives such as exist in the corporate world, but because the question exists at all.

The “What’s in it for me” mentality gets thrashed out of nearly everyone getting through Basic. Afterwards, Combat and Combat Support roles dial up Drill Sergeant’s pressure up to eleven to weed out the non performers. Generally there is no tolerance for slackers when everyone else’s life can hinge upon someone not giving 100%. And the assumption is that anyone who doesn’t take training seriously isn’t going to take combat seriously. The pressure to unfuck oneself comes primarily from peers, less so from the officers, and the results are 1) compliance, 2) misery for the slacker, or 3) involuntary discharge from service.

AF enlisted personnel who are awarded the Medal of Honor get an immediate promotion.

Other than that, nice post.

At the highest level I reached, E-6, my annual performance evaluations mentioned the exercises that I participated in. Also, it was possible to receive individual awards, such as Navy Achievement Medals or Navy Commendation Medals, for outstanding achievement during an exercise. These awards then reflect on your performance evaluation, which could lead to promotion. But, as Robby says above, these awards don’t necessarily go to the people who deserve it, but go to people with connections or someone’s personal favorite.

If I remember one of the things the late military historian Brig Richard Holmes said exercises were very good for was getting staff and communications officers up to speed.

Do you have a cite for that? I had people in the Army tell me that Medal of Honor recipients automatically get brevetted to Captain, or they get automatic enrollment in Officers Candidate School, or otherwise get some sort of automatic or immediate promotion, but as far as I can tell, that’s not actually true. In practical terms, if you have a Medal of Honor, I’d bet you’re pretty much guaranteed a waiver for an early promotion and that you’re going to get approved by your promotion board, but I haven’t been able to find any actual policy or regulation that grants promotion, immediate or otherwise, solely on the basis of receiving the Medal of Honor.

Sure no problem.


From there:

7.2. Promoting RegAF Medal of Honor Recipients. AFPC/DPSOE automatically promotes
Medal of Honor recipients one grade unless they currently serve in the grade of CMSgt. The effective date is the 1st day of the month following the date of the order. If the Airman is on a promotion selection list, the effective date of the additional promotion is the 1st day of the month following the normal selection list promotion.

This is why the latest MOH recipient, TSgt Chapman, was promoted to Master Sergeant.

Ok, thanks. Ignorance fought.

The Air Force becomes an outlier more and more of the time.


My father was a crewman aboard a USN Lockheed Constellation during an interception exercise against the Air Force. (This was before I came along, and it’s too late to ask him his role. I believe he was a RADAR operator.) Dad believed that his exceptional performance on this exercise was responsible for his recommendation to Officers Candidate School, and his ensuing commission.

Upon its conclusion, I received a **RIMPAC **commemorative keychain (Rim of the Pacific Exercise, world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise).
Talk about a babe magnet! (please, talk about a babe magnet, that keychain proved worthless and I could use some help)

To over simplify it, it’s part of their job. You want to perform well in exercises like any other aspect of your job. Nobody has ever gotten better by not caring about training.