By Thomas Novelly
The Department of the Air Force is now offering more reenlistment bonuses to troops in cyber-related careers at a time when the service is preparing to cut incentive pay for some of its toughest non-tech jobs.
A list of careers eligible for selective retention bonuses, called SRBs, was updated earlier this month to include cyber careers in the Air Force and Space Force. Those bonuses serve as incentive for highly skilled service members to reenlist.
Department of the Air Force spokeswoman Laurel Falls told Military.com that the new specialties added to the reenlistment bonus group are due to an “extreme demand for the advanced skills and talent within the targeted cyber specialties” and added that, while “retention remains high, there are areas, such as some cyber specialties, that signal retention concerns.”
For example, senior airmen with five years of experience in cyber warfare could see upward of an $80,000 bonus if they stay in the ranks for another six years, and it could be as high as $100,000 for some, according to the new list. Overall, the list added two cyber career fields for bonuses and increased the amounts for five other jobs.
But those cyber-related reenlistment bonuses come as thousands of airmen, many in some of the most physically demanding and difficult jobs, will see cuts ranging from $900 to $5,400 a year to their Special Duty Assignment Pay, known as SDAP, in fiscal 2023 — which starts Oct. 1.
Some of the more physically taxing and stressful careers expecting special duty assignment cuts include recruiters, basic military training instructors, special reconnaissance operators and pararescue operators.
While dozens of enlisted jobs are expecting cuts to special duty assignment pay, no cyber-related careers are at risk of having those funds cut, according to budget documents.
The Department of the Air Force has defended the new reenlistment bonuses for cyber-related jobs, saying the cost of retraining those specialty careers can be nearly seven figures.
“For some cyber specialties, cumulative individual training costs reach close to one million dollars and the unique National Defense experiences that further develop these member’s cyber proficiency are nearly incalculable,” Falls told Military.com. “Thus, a proactive approach to reduce retention pressure and demonstrate DAF commitment to talent management of advanced skills is warranted.”
One of the causes of the Department of the Air Force’s retention woes was a push in the private sector to offer increased benefits and larger salaries to attract talent during the start of the pandemic’s labor shortage, according to officials.
“If you want to work at Buc-ee’s along I-35 in Texas, you can do it for [a] $25-an-hour starting salary,” Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, the Air Force Recruiting Service commander, told Military.com in April.”You can start at Target for $29 an hour with educational benefits. So you start looking at the competition: Starbucks, Google, Amazon. The battle for talent amidst this current labor shortage is intense.”
The high bonuses and salaries also hit technical jobs, like private-sector cyber careers.
While an $80,000 bonus for an enlisted service member to stay in the ranks is a tempting offer, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to some yearly tech salaries.
The median pay for civilian information security analysts was around $102,600 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s also a job sector that is expected to grow by 35% over the next decade.
The Air Force is facing a $3 million shortfall to the Special Duty Assignment Budget for 2023, according to the service. Air Force Headquarters held a meeting this past November to address the problem prior to crafting the 2023 budget, Falls told Military.com.
To avoid the cuts, lawmakers would have to reinstate the Special Duty Assignment Pay difference in the 2023 budget proposal before it’s approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden