Cold-weather pay exists for some Alaska-based military members, but most Air Force personnel aren’t eligible

A line of soldier boots
Soldiers stand at attention for a 2014 ceremony on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Justin Connaher/USAF)

The U.S. military did not begin a new “Arctic pay” bonus for Alaska-based military members in 2023, as Sen. Lisa Murkowski intended when she added a cold-weather incentive provision to a defense bill last year. Instead, pre-existing incentives vary by location, and soldiers do better than airmen.

The Defense Department did not directly answer Alaska Public Media’s emails about why it didn’t implement universal Arctic pay, but an official responded this week with an explanation that some service members in Alaska already receive hardship pay of $150 a month for serving in remote locations. The official, who provided information on condition that her name not be used, said the hardship pay is distributed to military personnel serving above the Arctic Circle and at six other Alaska locations. 

That means only a small percentage of the more than 20,000 active duty personnel assigned to Alaska get hardship pay. The military has no major Alaska installations north of the Arctic Circle. Of the six other locations — Annette Island, Clear, Cordova, Eareckson, Fort Greely, and Unalaska — Fort Greely is by far the largest, and it has only a few hundred soldiers.

As Sen. Murkowski envisioned it, Arctic pay would help combat a serious mental health crisis for service members in the state, by easing financial stress and allowing the purchase of gear to get outdoors in winter, like snow tires or warm coats.

The Army (though not the other services) has another program intended to offset the cost of cold-weather gear. Soldiers in the Fairbanks area get a one-time $2,000 payment, or $4,000 if they’re supporting a family. The Army pays half those amounts to soldiers based in the Anchorage area and other places in Alaska that are south of the 63rd parallel.

That still leaves out a lot of service members — notably airmen. The Defense Department official said a component of cost of living allowance for Alaska troops is intended to compensate for the cost of serving in a cold-weather location — but that payout has fallen by hundreds of dollars annually due to higher inflation in the Lower 48.

Murkowski’s provision authorizing “Arctic pay” remains in law, without expiration, so the Pentagon could activate it later.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Lizhere.

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