20 March 2007


Pro Pay & Sgt. Henry Vozka, USMC




Several lifetimes ago, the Corps was losing Marines in technical Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) to higher paying civilian jobs. In an attempt to convince those Marines to stay in, they were given more money by the implementation of a program called "Proficiency Pay." As frequently happens, there was a curious consequence to that effort: Marines in the none-technical specialties were . . . irritated that they were being paid less than other Marines of equal rank. In reaction, the Corps authorized the payment of Proficiency Pay (AKA: "pro-pay") to select individuals in those non-technical specialties; e.g., infantry, artillery, etc.


In 1960, I was stationed at the Marine Corps Cold Weather Training Center (MCCWTC), Bridgeport, California, now called the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, when those in the infantry (03xx) field were authorized this incentive. For the Center, it amounted to a 3-month increase in pay of $30.00 a month, on a rotating basis, for one or two of the "03" Instructor/Guides in each of three Sections: Evasion, Escape & Survival, Mountain Leadership Training, and Unit Training. (A fourth group conducted the Otter Training Course: these were non-03 personnel of the Motor Transport Section.) The first to receive this pay in the Unit Training Section was Sgt. (E-4) Henry Vozka. At the time, a Sgt. (E-4)'s Base Pay was about $150.00 a month and $30.00 amounted to a significant increase in pay.


During the summer of 1960, Sgt. Vozka and his Section were conducting mountain operations training for a Camp Pendleton unit. During preparation for the River Crossing Class, Vozka tied one end of a 2-rope bridge to a tree on the bank of the West Walker River. Unfortunately, there were two trees there and the one Vozka picked was not the favorite of MSgt. "Chad" Palmer the NCOIC of the Unit Training Section. This of course resulted in the "Top" giving Vozka some "corrective guidance." Well, the other members of the Section were witnesses to the event and took pleasure in asking Vozka, "How could someone on Proficiency Pay screw-up like that?" This inquiry continued to the barracks that night. The next morning, Vozka confronted the Center's Disbursing Officer:


"Sir, I'm returning this "Pro-Pay" and I want you to stop paying it to me," Vozka demanded.


The Disbursing Officer looked at the cash on his counter and said, "Sergeant Vozka, I can't take it back. You have the money and its yours."


"Lieutenant, I don't want it and I'm not going to take it back," and Vozka promptly walked out of the Disbursing Office. On returning to the Unit Training Section, he announced, "I'm no longer on 'pro-pay,' so, GET OFF MY ASS!" Stunned speechless, his fellow Marines did just that.


Sergeant Henry Vozka spent over three years at MCCWTC and retired as a gunnery sergeant with 20 years Marine service; service that included Vietnam during the 1968 "Hill Fights" on Hill 881 South overlooking Khe Sanh Combat Base: He didn't "stay in" for the money.



Semper Fidelis,


Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret.)