Air force special warfare pay

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We’re all familiar with the commercials encouraging Americans to enlist in the military. Action-packed and provocative, these ads (even those that call out individual career types) tend to keep it simple, glossing over details about one very important factor: money. How much can you make in the military, particularly as you advance up the rungs?

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When you’re talking about base salary, the answer is not a whole lot — at least, not when compared with many civilian careers. Even those in high-ranking special forces divisions aren’t sweeping in hundreds of thousands of bucks a year; in fact, they’re often earning much less. Money worries often plague military families, with nearly 9 in 10 active service members and 84% of military spouses worried about money, a National Foundation for Credit Counseling report found.

To get a better idea of how military pay works, here’s a look at special forces military careers in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, respectively, considering the average salary and from there, breaking down how payment in the military generally works. You’ll want to read on to see some of the perks and benefits that might make the lower pay worth it for you.

Military Money: A Financial Checklist for Big Life Events

The Army: Special Forces Engineer

In the army, a special forces engineer sergeant specializes in construction and demolition. They’re tasked with building infrastructure such as bridges and field barricades and executing demolition raids against enemy targets. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for this role is between $65,302 and $70,252. This is around what a boilermaker or a first-line supervisor of construction trades and extraction worker would make in the civilian world. This is on the high end for the special forces field. According to ZipRecruiter, the overall average salary for a professional in the army’s special forces is $52,611.

Read: How the Military Incentivizes Getting Married With Pay

The Navy: Petty Officer Third Class (SEAL)

Like the U.S. Army, the Navy SEALs are made up of a large number of military personnel. Pay is greatly dependent on years of service and the nature of one’s contract. In 2018, an active and enlisted Petty Officer Third Class with under two years of service started at $2,089 a month. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a Navy SEAL is $53,450. This doesn’t seem like much considering that these officers are the core of the United States Navy.

The Air Force: Pararescueman

Dating back to WWII, pararescuemen perform search-and-rescue operations, where they recover essentials (and possibly people) from downed aircraft. Sort of like flying EMTs, pararescuemen have paramedic certification. Given the demanding physical nature of the job, they also need to be incredibly fit. According to Simply Hired, pararescue salaries average $57,726 a year.

Be Prepared: 5 Unique Financial Challenges Faced by Military Families

The Marine Corps: Special Operations Capability Specialist (SOCS)

An SOCS is one of the higher-ranking jobs in the Marine Corps, whose mission is to recruit, train and deploy marine forces as delegated by the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). These professionals use complex strategies and implement sound-free tactics in unpredictable environments. These specialists are among a higher-earning class, but on average, a Marine Corps member makes $51,000 a year.

See: 25 Hot Jobs That Pay More Than $100,000 a Year

My question, as yours may be, too: Why is military pay so low? There are a number of reasons.

“First, most people join the military for patriotic reasons, just as teachers teach because they enjoy helping others,” said Dr. Monroe Mann, Ph.D., Esq., MBA, LLM, ME, director and coding projects manager at Break Diving and a Bronze Star nominated Iraq war vet. “People join the military because of what it stands for, and it brings pride to oneself. Second, it comes down to supply and demand. There will always be someone else ready to take his/her place, so the salary does not need to be incredibly high.”

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Additionally — and what cannot be overstated — is the slew of expenses paid that come with a military job.

Morgan Lerette, a former Blackwater worker and U.S. Army intelligence officer, gave GOBankingRates the following breakdown of military benefits and extra pay.


“Medical, dental, housing, food and vacation benefits are given on day one for both the service member and their families,” Lerette said.

1. Vacation — 30 days and all holidays, plus four-day weekends nearly every month

2. Housing costs — depends on location or furnished by the military, increases when married and again with children

3. Medical — zero cost, zero copay, zero deductible

4. Food is furnished or the service member is given a stipend.

More: 20 Companies With the Happiest Employees

Additional Pay

“Deployment, hazard, flight, jump, etc.,” Lerette said, “These pay incentives are for special-trained service members.”

1. Tax-free pay while deployed

2. Hardship duty pay — $200/month

3. Hostile fire pay — $225/month

4. Dive pay — $300/month

“It all adds up,” Lerette said. “As a high school graduate, this was a lot of money, and it was all mine!”

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Last updated: May 13, 2021

This article originally appeared on How Much Do Navy SEALs and Other Special Ops Make?



The Airmen who make up Air Force Special Warfare are the most specialized warriors on the planet. They are the ones other special forces look to when the mission calls for their unique skills and fearless commitment. A job for the mentally tough and physically strong, these elite heroes go where others won’t because they’re trained to do what others can’t.

Join the Fight

Receive a $50,000 Enlistment Bonus

If you’re ready to be challenged like never before by joining an elite team of Special Warfare Airmen, you can receive a $50,000 enlistment bonus. Bonuses are earned upon completion of the Special Warfare training pipeline and a six-year enlistment contract.




Every Special Warfare career is highly specialized, which means the gear Special Warfare Airmen bring on a mission must be too.

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Special Warfare Officer Continuation Pay

A special warfare officer who meets the eligibility requirements and who executes a written agreement to remain on active duty in special warfare service for at least one year may be paid a retention (continuation) bonus of up to $15,000 for each year of continuation.

A special warfare officer may apply to enter into such an agreement if the officer:

  • Is in pay grade O-3, or is in pay grade O-4 and is not on a list of officers recommended for promotion, at the time the officer applies to enter into the agreement;
  • Has completed at least 6, but not more than 14, years of active commissioned service; and
  • Has completed any service commitment incurred to be commissioned as an officer.
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Military Special Pay

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U.S. Air Force Special Warfare Recruiting Breakdown
Special Warfare pay

Special Warfare Airmen receive pays above and beyond their Air Force peers. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what the monthly income will look like for Active Duty Special Warfare operators at multiple locations and timelines through their career. First, a quick review the basics of Air Force pays and allowances:

In the Air Force all Airmen collect a Base Pay, a subsistence food allowance (called BAS), and a housing allowance. When stationed overseas, Airmen will also collect a special cost of living allowance (COLA). For Special Warfare airmen, there are additional pays as well. We’ll combine all of these to compute a monthly paycheck.

Standard Air Force Pays (pays that all airmen receive)

  • Base Pay: Determined by your Pay Grade (E-4, O-3, etc) and your time in service
  • Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS): Rate adjusted if you are enlisted or officer
  • Housing Allowance: Determined by your duty location, rank, and whether you have dependents (spouse, children), and whether you live in the dormitories. (We will assume no one is living in the dorms for this).
  • COLA: (Overseas only) Determined by the country and location of your duty station

Special Warfare Specific Pays

  • SDAP: (Enlisted Only)Special Duty Assignment Pay. Amount determined by specific career field and length of time in it
  • BASIP: Battlefield Airman Incentive Pay. Lumps your special skills (such as jump pay, dive pay, demo pay, etc) into one bulk payment. Amount determined by your awarded skill level and qualifications.

Enlisted Operator Pay

Enlisted Special Warfare airmen receive two types of special pays: Battlefield Airman Incentive Pay (BASIP) and enlisted-only Special Duty Assignment Pay (SDAP). Pay range is dependent on skill level and qualifications.


We’ll look at 4 different operators (PJ, TACP, CCT & SR) at two different times during their career at various locations;
1) First assignment base as an E-3 (Airman First Class) with 3 years of military service and no dependents (not married, no kids) -and then-
2) E-6 (Technical Sergeant) with 12 years of service with dependents (married)


New PJ, at Davis-Monthan AFB (AZ)

  • E-3 Base Pay: $2303
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $373
  • Housing Allowance: $981
  • BASIP: $540
  • SDAP: $225
  • TOTAL Pre-Tax MONTHLY PAY: $4422

New TACP, at Fort Hood (TX)

  • E-3 Base Pay: $2303
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $373
  • Housing Allowance: $960
  • BASIP: $150
  • SDAP: $450
  • TOTAL Pre-TaxMONTHLY PAY: $4236

New Combat Controller, at RAF Mildenhall (UK)

  • E-3 Base Pay: $2303
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $373
  • Housing Allowance: $1690
  • COLA: $211
  • BASIP: $525
  • SDAP: $375
  • TOTAL Pre-TaxMONTHLY PAY: $5477

New Special Recon, at Hurlburt Field (FL)

  • E-3 Base Pay: $2303
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $373
  • Housing Allowance: $1371
  • BASIP: $525
  • SDAP: $225
  • TOTAL Pre-TaxMONTHLY PAY: $4797

Technical Sergeant (E-6) Fully Qualified operator at 12 years with a wife and kid

PJ at Kadena AB, Japan

  • Base Pay: $3995
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $373
  • Housing Allowance: $3008
  • COLA: $614
  • BASIP: $615
  • SDAP: $450
  • TOTAL Pre-TaxMONTHLY PAY: $9055

TACP at Vilseck, Germany

  • Base Pay: $3995
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $373
  • Housing Allowance: $2611
  • COLA: $341
  • BASIP: $150
  • SDAP: $450
  • TOTAL Pre-TaxMONTHLY PAY: $7920

Combat Controller at Cannon AFB, NM

  • Base Pay: $3995
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $373
  • Housing Allowance: $1191
  • BASIP: $600
  • SDAP: $450
  • TOTAL Pre-TaxMONTHLY PAY: $6609

Special Recon at McChord AFB, WA

  • Base Pay: $3995
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $373
  • Housing Allowance: $2217
  • BASIP: $600
  • SDAP: $525
  • TOTAL Pre-TaxMONTHLY PAY: $7710

Officer Operator Pay

Officer Special Warfare airmen receive one type of special pay: Battlefield Airman Incentive Pay (BASIP). Pay range is dependent on skill level and qualifications.

We’ll look at 3 different operators (STO, CRO & TACPO) at two times during their career at various locations.;
1) First assignment base as an O-2 (1st Lieutenant) with 3 years of military service and no dependents (not married, no kids) -and then-
2) O-4 (Major) with 12 years of service with dependents (married)


New STO/CRO at Hurlburt Field, FL

  • O-2 Base Pay: $4968
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $257
  • Housing Allowance: $1551
  • BASIP: $525/STO, $540/CRO
  • TOTAL Pre-Tax MONTHLY PAY: $7301 (STO)/$7316 (CRO)

New TACPO at Fort Hood, TX

  • O-2 Base Pay: $4968
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $257
  • Housing Allowance: $1167
  • BASIP: $150
  • TOTAL Pre-Tax MONTHLY PAY: $6542

Major (O-4) Fully Qualified operator at 12 years with a wife and kid

CRO/STO at Kadena AB, Japan

  • O-4 Base Pay: $7832
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $257
  • Housing Allowance: $3288
  • COLA: $833
  • BASIP: $600/STO, $615/CRO
  • TOTAL Pre-Tax MONTHLY PAY: $12810 (STO)/$12825(CRO)

TACPO at Fort Carson, CO

  • O-4 Base Pay: $7832
  • Food Allowance (BAS): $257
  • Housing Allowance: $2133
  • BASIP: $150
  • TOTAL Pre-Tax MONTHLY PAY: $10372


  • The pays calculations above are based off year 2020 calculations and do not include any special pays for deployments (hostile fire pay & tax free), re-enlistment/retention bonuses or the annual uniform stipend. The above numbers are pre-tax. Expect deductions of Federal Taxes, Social Security and Medicare. Housing allowance, Food allowance and COLA are tax exempt as they are technically allowances; not pay.
  • Housing allowance is based off of the going rate in the surrounding area. Extra housing allowance that you don’t use may be pocketed stateside, but not pocketed overseas.
  • Enlisted members at their first duty station may have to live in the dormitories based on the wing’s guidance and if space is available.

Observations and Take Home Points

  • Officers make drastically more money than their enlisted counterparts, despite not collecting SDAP. The difference is largely attributed to the base pay (and also housing allowance).
    • Of note, military retirement is calculated using a percentage of the member’s base pay. No special pays are included.
  • Overseas assignments will nearly always provide more income due to the added COLA pay.
  • Pararescue, Combat Control & Special Recon will earn about the same amount, if all other factors were the same (rank, location, skill level, etc). TACP operators will earn less than their other Special Warfare peers due to their low BASIP amount. For more info on special pay amounts, see our Overview Page.
  • Staying in Special Warfare for multiple years will rapidly increase your take home pay, regardless if you are officer or enlisted. (And will provide an added benefit of several re-enlistment/retention bonus opportunities.)

Additional Resources

Military Base Pay, Housing Allowance, BAS and COLA rates are all available on line if you wish to further crunch the numbers. SDAP and BASIP are available with military CAC access on MyPers.

For additional information on pay or other Special Warfare topics, visit our community forums.




Force special pay air warfare

Air Force adds jobs to special duty pay list in 2019

Some professional military education instructors, defense couriers and cyber airmen could be eligible for monthly special duty payments in fiscal 2019.

But the changes to the special duty assignment pay list, which went into effect in October, are fewer this year than the Air Force made in fiscal 2018.

Last year, the Air Force added 10 new jobs to the list of special duty assignment pays. This year, however, only three jobs are being added, and a handful more are being increased. A comparison of the 2018 and 2019 special pay lists show no career fields were dropped this year, or had their monthly payments reduced.

This year, the Air Force has added to the list:

* Certain professional military education instructors who are qualified and currently teaching at Airman Leadership School, the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, the Senior NCO Academy, Cadet Leadership Course, and Enlisted PME Instruction Course. Those instructors can receive the lowest monthly payment of $75, regardless of how long they’ve been in that job.

* Defense couriers in the 8P000 career field with the required training and experience, who are also eligible for $75 per month. These couriers are responsible for safeguarding and transporting sensitive material, making sure those materials are delivered to the right people and are safely stored after delivery.

* Some 52nd Munitions Maintenance Group airmen in the 3D0X3 cyber surety, 3D1X2 cyber transport systems, or 3D1X3 RF transmission systems career fields, who could receive $75.

The Air Force has also increased special duty pays for several career fields that were already eligible, or expanded their eligibility:

* Certain airmen in the 724th Special Tactics Group at Pope Field in North Carolina, whose $150, $225 or $300 monthly special pays will increase to $225, $300 or $375, depending on how long they have served in the special duty.

* Certain Air Force Special Operations Command air operations flight airmen will have their monthly payments increased from either $75 to $225 to $225 to $375, depending on their length of service in the job. Others will see their payments go up from $225 to $375, to $300 to the maximum $450.

* Some Office of Special Investigations airmen will have their payments increased to either $225 or $300.

* Air traffic controllers who train other controllers on a day-to-day basis, and who are senior airmen, also can now receive $75 per month. Previously, only air traffic controllers who served as watch supervisors or in other staff duty positions were eligible for $225 per month in special duty pay.

* Command chief master sergeants serving at the unified combatant command and major command levels will get a bump in their monthly pay, from $225 to $300. All other command chiefs will stay at $225.

* Certain special operations surgical team airmen in the 4H0X1 cardiopulmonary laboratory career field and assigned to AFSOC or U.S. Special Operations Command Europe are now eligible to receive the maximum $450 monthly payment. Previously, only SOST airmen in the 4N1X1 surgical service career field were eligible for that $450 payment.

* Korean cryptologic language analysts' monthly special payments went from either $300 or $375, depending on their skill level, to $375 or $450.

Here’s the 2019 list of special duty assignment pay amounts.

About Stephen Losey

Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.




    RankMonthy payement
    < 2 years2 years3 years4 years6 years
    E-1 AIRMAN BASIC $1,680.90*$1,680.90$1,680.90$1,680.90$1,680.90
    E-2 AIRMAN $1,884.00$1,884.00$1,884.00$1,884.00$1,884.00
    E-3 AIRMAN FIRST CLASS $1,981.20$2,105.70$2,233.50$2,233.50$2,233.50
    E-4 SENIOR AIRMAN $2,194.50$2,307.00$2,431.80$2,555.40$2,664.00
    E-5 STAFF SERGEANT $2,393.40$2,554.80$2,678.10$2,804.40$3,001.50
    E-6 TECHNICAL SERGEANT $2,612.70$2,875.20$3,002.10$3,125.40$3,254.10
    E-7 MASTER SERGEANT $3,020.70$3,296.70$3,423.30$3,590.10$3,720.90

    * Pay for E-1 Airman Basic will be slightly lower for the first four months of service.


      RankMonthy payement
      < 2 years2 years3 years4 years6 years
      O-1 SECOND LIEUTENANT $3,188.40$3,318.90$4,011.90$4,011.90$4,011.90
      O-2 FIRST LIEUTENANT $3,673.50$4,183.80$4,818.30$4,981.20$5,083.80
      O-3 CAPTAIN $4,251.60$4,819.20$5,201.40$5,671.50$5,943.60
      O-4 MAJOR $4,835.40$5,597.40$5,971.20$6,054.00$6,400.80
      O-5 LIEUTENANT COLONEL $5,604.30$6,313.50$6,750.00$6,832.50$7,105.50
      O-6 COLONEL $6,722.70$7,385.70$7,870.50$7,870.50$7,900.50
      • 01


        The Air Force provides our Airmen and their families with world-class insurance plans. They receive excellent rates, low cost, comprehensive medical and dental care at military or civilian facilities, full pay and allowances for sick days and low-cost life insurance.

      • 02


        The Air Force takes care of the basic needs of every Airman. Living expenses, including utilities and maintenance, are covered for those who choose to live in on-base housing. A monthly tax-free housing allowance based on rank, family status and geographic location is provided for off-base residents to help pay for living expenses.

        Food allowances are also provided, and single Airmen have a meal account that allows them to eat as many as four meals a day in the on-base dining facility for free. Tax-free, on-base department and grocery stores also help costs to continue to stay low.

      • 03


        The Air Force provides a generous retirement plan. Airmen are eligible to retire after 20 years of service and begin receiving benefits the day they retire. The Air Force retirement plan requires no payroll deductions. Those who’d like to save a little extra each month can take part in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)*, which allows participants to place a portion of their monthly pay into an account similar to a 401(k) investment plan.

        *TSP contributions are considered pretax dollars and therefore reduce the amount of income subject to tax, and the accounts grow tax-free. Enrollment is available when members first join the military and anytime thereafter. Unlike traditional military retirement, which requires a commitment of at least 20 years of active duty, money invested in the TSP belongs to individual members, no matter how many years they serve. Income contributed to the TSP is not taxed until withdrawn from the account. Withdrawal before age 59½ may be subject to penalty; however, the TSP accounts can be rolled over into an IRA or another employer’s retirement account.

      • 04


        Most Air Force bases have golf courses, arts and crafts facilities, bowling alleys, tennis courts, swimming pools and even equipment rentals, which can be either used for free or at better rates than similar facilities or options off base.

        Every base is also equipped with social activities and recreational programs geared toward the interests of every family member. These include Enlisted and Officer Clubs, base sponsored youth activities and youth centers where children can spend time in a safe environment.

      • 05


        All Airmen receive 30 days of vacation with pay, during which they are free to travel and take time to explore local and foreign destinations. Airmen can take advantage of available space on Air Force aircraft to travel to many international destinations as well as almost any state in the U.S. For destinations near another military facility, they can enjoy hotel-quality lodging on base for a reduced cost.

      • 06


        The Air Force offers an array of educational opportunities so you can achieve your true potential. On day one you’ll be enrolled in Community College of the Air Force earning college credit starting with Basic Military Training. The Air Force also offers scholarships to outstanding Airmen who wish to attend or complete their college education. Or you can receive up to 100% tuition assistance through the Air Force Tuition Assistance program, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, or the Montgomery GI Bill.



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