Hundreds of airmen, many in some of the most physically demanding and difficult jobs, were scheduled to see cuts ranging from $900 to $5,400 a year to their Special Duty Assignment Pay, a monthly incentive bonus known as SDAP, in fiscal 2023 -- which starts Oct. 1.
But Kendall announced during his opening speech Monday at the Air & Space Forces Association's annual conference that the Department of the Air Force "will restore all the cuts to special duty assignment pay that were scheduled to take place on October 1."
Kendall cited economic pressures on airmen as the reasoning behind the decision.
"The past several months of inflation has put unique pressures on the finances of some of our airmen and Guardians in critical specialties," Kendall said. "Our system to adjust special duty pay was out of sync with the rapid changes [on] our economy brought on by COVID and the invasion of Ukraine."
The pay cuts were scheduled to come as the Air Force struggles to recruit new talent and faces frequent criticism from the rank and file that the service isn't working hard enough to improve their quality of life. Airmen have told leadership that living comfortably and being able to provide for their families are their top priorities.
"The most common concerns I've heard from airmen and Guardians is about inflation, housing cost or conditions, and child care," Kendall said during his speech.
Kendall's reversal brings a sigh of relief for thousands of airmen. For 2022, the Air Force asked for 31,334 airmen to receive $91.7 million as part of the SDAP bonus program. By comparison, in 2021, the service asked for 30,967 airmen to receive $90.8 million.
Dozens of Air Force career fields would have been affected by the cut to Special Assignment Duty Pay, including pararescuemen, basic military training instructors and load masters.
And recruiters, who are directly confronting the trouble the service is facing attracting new airmen, were also set to lose Special Assignment Duty Pay. They were slated to lose their $75 in special duty pay each month for fiscal 2023, adding up to $900 a year in lost wages.
Kendall addressed the recruiting challenges briefly in his speech, saying the Air Force will meet its end-of-year goals but will be in a tough position over the next couple of years.
"The Air Force is, generally, in much better shape than other services, and the Space Force is easily meeting its goals," Kendall said. "We expect the Air Force active component to meet its recruiting goals for this year, but with less margin than we typically see -- a downward trend that may pose challenges in the future."
The Air Force's 2023 budget request includes a 4.3% increase in the Basic Housing Allowance, a 3.4% jump in the Basic Allowance for Subsistence designed to offset the cost of groceries, and a 4.6% pay raise. Those proposals, along with the reinstatement of the Special Duty Assignment Pay for certain career fields, must be approved by Congress.
Kendall's announcement Monday follows news that the Pentagon has seemingly halted a planned cost-of-living allowance cut -- otherwise known as COLA -- to service members stationed in Hawaii.
The Department of Defense circulated information in a Sept. 6 memo about a looming COLA reduction to service members stationed in Hawaii. After being contacted by Military.com last week about the allowance cut, the Pentagon said that the memo is being rescinded and that no final decision has been made.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.