Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall delivers remarks during the Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 20, 2021.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall delivers remarks during the Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 20, 2021. U.S. Air Force / Wayne Clark

Troops Worry Most About Inflation, Air Force Secretary Says

Frank Kendall said he’s reversing planned cuts to special duty pay.

High inflation is the top concern of U.S. service members, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday.

Not mentioned as a top concern of the troops: China and Russia, which are regularly listed by military leaders as their top concern.

“The most common concerns I've heard from airmen and guardians about our inflation, housing cost or conditions and childcare,” Kendall said during a keynote at the Air and Space Forces Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference. “The [Air and Space Forces] leadership knows we can't expect airmen, guardians to give their all to the mission when they are worried about paying for gas to get to work, finding childcare or providing their family a safe place to live.”

With cumulative inflation over the past year at 8.6 percent and home mortgage rates topping 6 percent for the first since 2008, Kendall said he would reverse a decision to cut the special duty pay given to troops in particularly difficult or important jobs.

“The past several months of inflation has put unique pressures on the finances, and some of our eminent guardians and critical specialties,” said Kendall, who oversees the Air Force and Space Force. “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. That's why I'm announcing today that the [Department of the Air Force] will restore all the cuts to special duty assignment pay that were scheduled to take place on 1 October.”

The Biden administration has proposed the largest military pay raise in two decades, Kendall said, but Congress has yet to pass the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act and Defense Appropriation Act that would enact those raises. Kendall said Air Force leaders are “working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to ensure basic allowance for housing also keeps pace with costs.” He also said the Air Force is opening up more jobs to military spouses who have difficulty finding local jobs after moving to a new base.

“We are also implementing the basic needs allowance program that provides supplemental income for military members and dependents whose gross income falls below 130 percent of the federal poverty line,” Kendall said.

For the past year, defense leaders have said high inflation is affecting contractors and suppliers. Last week, three defense trade groups said high inflation would cost the Pentagon $110 billion in buying power between 2021 and 2023.