Air Force tries to tempt airmen to stay in Turkey with largest assignment bonus yet
Stars and Stripes May 11, 2023
About 35 airmen have signed up for an additional year in Turkey since the Air Force approved a tax-free bonus of $1,000 per month, making it the most generous noncombat assignment pay in the service.
The Air Force bumped up the incentive pay at the end of last year from $300 a month added to the paychecks of airmen based primarily at Incirlik Air Base on one-year unaccompanied tours.
For years, Incirlik has been low on airmen’s wish lists, largely because of the heavy restrictions on leaving the base and on bringing families.
In 2016, the Pentagon ordered nearly 700 military family members to leave Incirlik and two smaller bases because of deteriorating security.
But the Air Force began letting personnel into a roughly 10-block area outside the base in Adana, a city of about 1.8 million, just before the devastating earthquakes that struck southern Turkey and Syria in February, killing about 50,000 people.
Access to those 10 blocks was restricted after the earthquakes but has since been reinstated. Airmen also can visit select locations outside the base and throughout Turkey at their leisure or through base tours, 39th Air Base Wing officials said.
Some areas in Adana and elsewhere remain off-limits because of security concerns and earthquake damage.
Air Force 2nd Lt. Devon Canterbury signed up for the incentive pay before moving to Incirlik this spring, his first assignment out of technical school.
More time in one place, he figures, will give him a better foundation as he begins his Air Force career and will allow more time to travel.
Canterbury, the officer-in-charge of the cyberoperations radio section for the 39th Communications Squadron, opted to extend before the natural disaster struck but doesn’t regret his decision.
“The earthquakes made me worry a bit, but when my sponsor told me that the base and nearby areas did not undergo any major damages, I felt safe in my decision,” he said.
While the quakes toppled poorly constructed high-rise buildings in the city, Incirlik was largely spared.
Taking the incentive pay can be a gamble since there’s little time to test the waters. Airmen are eligible to enroll before moving to Turkey or within 60 days of arriving. A waiver is required to sign up outside of that window.
The higher incentive pay is in effect until Dec. 31 of this year and will be reviewed annually, base officials at Incirlik said. It’s available to all ranks at all locations in Turkey.
In 2022, 65 airmen elected to stay in the country for another year for the extra $300 a month. Incirlik has more than 1,500 personnel assigned, with more than 200 currently within the eligibility window for incentive pay, military personnel flight officials said.
If an airman receiving incentive pay ends a tour early, the Air Force will review on a case-by-case basis whether to require the money to be returned. Airmen who leave because of humanitarian, family or expedited transfer reasons aren’t liable for repayment.
Canterbury, 24 and single, said he plans to save some pay and use some to travel to Europe and back to the U.S. to visit family and friends.
The base “is pretty lively, (and) there is always something to get into,” such as karaoke, trivia night, bingo and Turkish language and cultural classes, he said.
“Everybody is friendly and willing to help you with whatever you need,” he said.