WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is giving hundreds of troops thousands of dollars in back pay for flying airstrike and surveillance missions over Syria since mid-September, due to an oversight in danger pay guidelines, defense officials said Wednesday.
Acting Assistant Defense Secretary Stephanie Barna signed a new memo this week designating the airspace over Syria as a dangerous location so that troops can now receive additional money when they fly through there.
Until this week, U.S. forces could receive imminent danger pay for serving on the ground in Syria as well as a number of other warzone locations, but the Syrian airspace was not listed. Under the new guidance, troops flying through the airspace can now receive $7.50 per day, up to a maximum of $225 a month.
According to Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, the Pentagon estimates that about 600 service members per week are entitled to the pay, and it will cost the Pentagon about $18,000 each month.
While a number of fighter jets carry one pilot or a pilot and weapons officer, other aircraft such as the E-2 early warning aircraft or other sophisticated surveillance planes can have from four to a dozen or more crew members, depending on the mission.
"The Department recognized that there was an imminent threat of physical harm to service members conducting operations above Syria and we wanted to ensure that they received the additional compensation they deserve," said Christensen, adding that the change was requested by U.S. Central Command, endorsed by the Joint Staff, and approved by the Pentagon.
Troops routinely receive the stipend if they serve, for example, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Yemen and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The list has evolved over many years, with countries added as they became more dangerous hot spots. And military leaders do periodic reviews of the list.