Fewer airmen could receive bonuses for tough jobs in 2025

by Tommy Grant

The Air Force would cut bonus pay for more than 700 enlisted airmen in some of the service’s toughest jobs in fiscal year 2025, according to its most recent budget request.

If approved by Congress, the cuts would reduce the Air Force’s special duty assignment pay program by about $4 million as the service shifts money toward modernization and maintenance efforts while planning for a flat workforce in the coming year.

Airmen receive monthly bonus pay between $75 and $450 — totaling $900 to $5,400 annually — under the program. The Air Force estimates it would spend $91.2 million for 30,136 airmen to receive the money next year, down from an estimated $95.2 million in FY24, in which it projects 30,904 airmen will receive bonus pay.

The Air Force routinely offers bonuses in some of its most demanding jobs, though more details about which career fields will be eligible for special duty pay are expected to be released later this year. Current specialties that qualify range from recruiters to pararescuemen, combat controllers, tactical air control party operators and about 20 others, according to the Air Force’s budget request, issued March 11.

The Air Force declined to comment, citing pending legislation.

While the number of airmen receiving the bonus would decrease in the coming year, it’s far fewer than the nearly 2,200 personnel who were slated to lose that extra cash in FY24.

Though fewer airmen are eligible for the bonuses this year, the service plans to put more money toward the program. In FY23, the service spent $93.4 million on bonus pay for 33,102 troops; in FY24, which runs through the end of September, the Air Force estimates it will spend $95.1 million on bonuses for 30,904 airmen.

In 2025, the pool of airmen who receive the highest bonuses — $450 each month — would shrink by a little more than 800 troops. Those at the lowest tier, earning $75 monthly, would also decrease by about 1,600 personnel. Meanwhile, the group of airmen who earn an extra $150 a month would balloon by more than 2,000 people to 10,862 airmen next year.

The Air Force approved 70 career fields for special duty bonuses last year, down from about 100 the year prior. The service may adjust jobs, and bonus rates, throughout the year as needs arise. To qualify, jobs must require special qualifications earned through school or screening, “extremely difficult personal effort” or “greater responsibility or difficulty” than typical for airmen in a certain grade.

Previous jobs that have received the bonus but were dropped in recent years from eligibility include flight attendants, loadmasters, contracting specialists and enlisted pilots that fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance drone, which the service is retiring.

Changes in special duty pay would also come as the service plans to dole out $1.1 billion in bonuses and retention pay for 118,000 “critical positions,” including $327 million for aviation jobs and $21 million to retain cyber specialists.

Special compensation is one lever the Air Force uses to reward troops for taking on unique missions and to entice them to remain in uniform. The program may face further changes as the service shrinks to fewer than 495,000 uniformed jobs in 2025 and reshapes its workforce to fight future wars.

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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