IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

An army of one carries a high price

CNBC breaks down the cost of war to the level of the individual soldier. But it’s an inexact science. By CNBC’s Diana Olick.
/ Source: CNBC

Think about the sheer number of troops in the U.S. military and you would think that on a per-person basis it couldn’t cost that much to send just one soldier into battle. Think again.

PICTURE AMERICA GOING TO WAR and this is the image most people see — thousands of troops, each fully outfitted from head to toe in combat couture.

How much does it cost? Let’s take it from head to toe, on Marine Corps Sergeant Jason Anderson.

Here’s the breakdown: helmet, $322; uniform, $67.65; body armor, $1,620; nuclear, biological and chemical gear, $341.75, walkie-talkie, $578; boots, $105; M-16 rifle, $586; fully equipped rucksack, $1,031.15; three square meals a day, $19.25; standard pay, $50.59 a day; combat pay, $5 a day.

Anderson’s total retail value is $4,726.39. But we admit to you our model is flawed.


“The least important part really of the cost of a soldier, sailor, airman or woman is the equipment, helmets, boots, even airplanes and tanks and things like that,” says Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute. “The real costs are the personnel costs, we’re talking about training, we’re talking about housing, we’re talking about dependent care for families, daycare for children, we’re talking about health care, which is a huge issue.”

Let’s just look at recruiting alone. This year, recruiting one Marine cost $6,539, including advertising, college fund and enlistment bonuses. Train that marine and you add $1,614, including the uniform, gear, laundry and chow. Then give that recruit some real classroom learning and tack on an additional $301. Remember, you haven’t paid him yet. Pay, allowance, clothing and moving expenses will add $19,973. Give him some ammo at $787 and then provide him with a staff of drill sergeants, teachers and support staff for $15,674. Total value of a new Marine: $44,887.

But in the interest of accuracy, we’re still way off.

“We have an extraordinarily technical military,” says Goure. “The majority of people are not on the front line, coming off the beaches with rifles. They are behind the scenes, running equipment; they’re the people running unmanned aerial vehicles like the Predator.”


Old-fashioned infantrymen are in fact one of the rarest commodities in today’s military, a force now filled with Ph.D.s and highly specialized officers. What about that kind of education? Last year, the cost of graduating one officer, likely specializing in science and engineering, from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was $340,000. But let’s say that officer likes to fly. Put him in a $19 million F-16 fighter.

So what’s the overall average cost of sending a soldier to defend our freedom? Well, that was my assignment, and after spending two weeks trying to pry that number out of the U.S. military, our crack team of investigative journalists in the Washington bureau came up with the following answer: it’s simply not a knowable number. Suffice it to say, the figure is priceless.