Air Force taking measures to keep much-needed senior NCOs in the military

The Air Force is giving senior enlisted airmen an opportunity to stay in their ranks longer if they are in critically needed occupations.

The Air Force is once again implementing new personnel measures to retain and recruit airmen in critically needed positions.

This week, the service announced two programs aimed at keeping noncommissioned officers in the Air Force and filling positions dealing with cyber and maintenance.

Senior NCOs in high-demand jobs now have the option of applying for up to two extra years in their current rank.

The high-year-of-tenure program pushes the boundaries of the military’s “up or out” system, which requires service members to promote to the next rank in a certain amount of time or leave the military.

“The Air Force needs to ensure experienced airmen are available to complete the mission as well as train new airmen,” Col. Erik Bovasso, military sustainment and transitions programs division chief at the Air Force’s Personnel Center, said in a July 31 statement. High-year tenure “extensions will help improve mission capability in key areas where readiness is currently strained.”

The service will notify airmen in critical occupations of their eligibility for the program.

The Air Force offered the same program last year. NCOs must have a high-year tenure date of Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018 to be eligible.

The Air Force has been struggling to keep maintainers and cyber airmen in their jobs.

Earlier this year, Lt. Gen. John Cooper, deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering and force protection said the Air Force still has a shortage of 3,400 maintainers.

The Air Force uses maintainers to repair and preserve aircraft, but for the past four years, the service has been hurting for people to fill the positions and overworking the maintainers it employs.

Cooper said the Air Force’s deficit was getting larger until recently.

“That hole was growing by 40 maintainers every month because as we were bringing in F-35s, an F-35 requires 20 maintainers each to maintain. We were bringing two per month in, so the hole was getting bigger. Our Air Force is committed to fix that, we recognized the problem,” Cooper said.

Air Force Assistant Secretary for Budget Maj. Gen. James Martin said the service would offer high tenure extensions for airmen during the budget roll out in May.

“This budget will allow us to continue our progress in tackling maintenance manpower shortfalls, while also addressing critical capability gaps in critical career fields, such as nuclear, cyber and the [remote piloted aircraft] enterprise. To help with the retention, we will continue to offer incentive pays and bonuses to encourage experienced airmen to stay. We will also continue higher tenure extensions for personnel in key career fields to further retain experience,” Martin said.

Retraining for NCOs

High year tenure extensions aren’t the only retention options open for senior NCO airmen. The Air Force announced its retraining quotas this week as well for airmen who want to retrain for much-needed occupations.

The program allows NCOs on their second or later enlistment to retrain in specialties with lower inventories.

The Air Force wants 800 senior enlisted airmen to retrain. There are 61 undermanned occupations the service is hoping airmen will retrain into.

The retraining program has been used by the Air Force to repurpose its enlisted airmen for years. Last year, the Air Force wanted 1,900 airmen to retrain for undermanned jobs.

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