Hundreds of enlisted airmen face pay cuts of up to $5,400 a year due to fiscal constraints facing the Air Force, the service confirmed Friday.

The Pentagon has asked Congress to give fewer airmen the extra monthly compensation known as special duty assignment pay in fiscal 2023. That money — ranging from $75 to $450 a month — is offered to troops in particularly grueling or important jobs, a list that can change throughout the year.

The service also uses special duty pay to entice airmen to extend their service in those fields.

Monthly bonus pay for 30,845 airmen will cost the Air Force an estimated $90.2 million, according to the service’s fiscal 2023 budget request. That’s the lowest ask in at least two years.

Unless lawmakers tweak the amount as part of a final federal spending agreement, the pay cut will take effect when Congress and President Joe Biden approve the military’s funding request in the coming months.

Service officials discussed how to handle a $3 million shortfall in special duty pay last November as part of crafting the fiscal 2023 budget request, Air Force spokesperson Master Sgt. Jarad Denton said Friday.

The final proposal ended up calling for about $1.5 million less in special pay for nearly 500 airmen than the Air Force wanted in 2022.

The prospect of a smaller paycheck is hitting home for airmen amid soaring inflation that has spiked the cost of everything from eggs to houses. That comes as some enlisted airmen have voiced concerns about promotion system changes that will increase the time it takes to reach higher pay brackets.

Asked about the issue during a live question-and-answer session Thursday, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin lamented the hard choices service leaders have to make and the limitations on their spending.

“It’s tough to look at the airmen and say, ‘Yes, we have tough economic times, but I’m going to cut your pay anyway,” he said.

Sitting next to Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, Allvin acknowledged that officials do “lose touch” with the needs of everyday airmen in the process of crafting future budgets.

“We carve out little bits of money here and there to afford that next F-35, or to be able to do that development and testing here. But that doesn’t resonate very well,” he said. “We all have work to do to understand the impact on recruiting and retention.”

The Air Force at large has suffered from rising costs, too. Allvin said the service is $700 million over budget on fuel because of inflation — a must-pay expense.

While the officials said paying troops and ensuring they receive their stipends for housing, clothing and other living expenses is the top priority, Bass acknowledged that costs have outpaced those payments.

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin speaks with civic leaders from South Carolina during a meeting at the Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia, June 8, 2022. The group discussed local initiatives for Joint Base Charleston. (Eric Dietrich/Air Force)

She and her fellow senior enlisted leaders in other branches are pushing senior Pentagon officials to review how troops are compensated.

“We need a more modern way to be able to assess” housing and subsistence allowances and cost-of-living adjustments, she said.

Basic pay for active duty enlisted airmen ranges from $1,695 a month for brand-new recruits to $9,355.50 a month for those serving in the military’s highest enlisted positions.

Enlisted airmen whose special duty pay will be affected include:

  • Basic military training instructors
  • Human intelligence debriefers
  • Combat controllers
  • Pararescuemen
  • Tactical air control party operators
  • Command chief master sergeants
  • Special reconnaissance operators
  • First sergeants
  • Defense attaché office liaisons
  • Airmen in the nuclear enterprise
  • Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents
  • Air traffic control supervisors
  • Enlisted pilots
  • Enlisted weapons directors
  • Parachute instructors and those with the test parachute program
  • Flight attendants
  • Mission system specialists
  • Loadmasters
  • Contracting airmen
  • Air Force Honor Guardsmen
  • Phoenix Raven security forces defenders
  • Airmen who work with forward area refueling points
  • Flying crew chiefs
  • Defense couriers
  • Airmen who work at certain commands or government agencies
  • Airmen who work with certain federal panels
  • Public affairs airmen assigned to recruiting squadrons
  • Air transportation airmen
  • Airmen who work on classified Air Force projects

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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