NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force will no longer cut special duty assignment pay for enlisted airmen in some of the service’s most grueling and important jobs, reversing a plan that was set to take effect Oct. 1.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced the change during his keynote speech at the Air Force Association’s annual conference here Monday.

“The past several months of inflation have put unique pressures on the finances of some of our airmen and guardians in critical specialties,” he said. “Our system to adjust special duty pay was out of sync with the rapid changes [in] our economy brought on by COVID and the invasion of Ukraine.”

The Air Force had asked Congress to fund the monthly bonuses for 30,845 airmen, with a price tag of $90.2 million, in its fiscal 2023 budget request. It was the lowest ask in at least two years, thanks to the service’s outsized maintenance and modernization expenses.

Hundreds of airmen in nearly 30 fields stood to lose $75 to $450 a month, or up to $5,400 a year, in extra compensation. Those affected spanned airmen from boot camp instructors to those working on classified programs.

The Defense Department was used to making those personnel budget decisions in a more stable economy, Kendall said. Then the cost of living spiked nationwide, catching the military flat-footed.

“At the staff level, we could [make] adjustments through whatever process we had set up to consider alternatives and make decisions, and there really wasn’t much of a ripple effect. … It’s different now,” Kendall told reporters during a roundtable Monday.

Undersecretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones added that the Pentagon could continue its stipends for temporary lodging expenses so troops wouldn’t have to leave their makeshift homes at hotels, among other considerations.

She said she is proud of how the Air Force is working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense on quality of life issues, and pitching some policy suggestions of its own.

“This is very active,” Jones said. “It’s not just the housing — it’s childcare, it’s how far their dollar goes, etc., on top of whether or not their spouse has employment.”

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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