Air Force occupational badges are displayed during a ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Nov. 8, 2019.

Air Force occupational badges are displayed during a ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Nov. 8, 2019. (Kemberly Groue/U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force, in an effort to boost its numbers, is affording airmen on their first enlistment an easy opportunity to change jobs rather than leave the service.

The new policy will allow all eligible, first-term airmen to transfer into any job they are qualified for that is below 90% manning levels, even if their current career field is below 90% manning, according to an Air Force news release April 28. The change takes effect June 1.

“Glad to see us make this change as it relates to retraining opportunities for the force,” Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said in the release. “Providing these opportunities for our Airmen helps us keep talent on the bench.”

The Air Force is trying to catch up with this fiscal year’s recruiting goals but was 10% behind in March, reported March 7. The goal this year is 26,877 active-duty recruits, Air Force spokeswomen Leslie Brown recently told Stars and Stripes.

That number is part of a proposed end strength of 323,400 active-duty airmen, or 5,820 fewer than the previous fiscal year.

Currently, fewer than 40 career fields are under 90% manned, Tech. Sgt. Deana Heitzman, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said Thursday. The new policy opens about 20 more career fields to first-term airmen, she said.

The retraining threshold had previously been about 85% undermanned; increasing it to 90% “is where the extras ones come in,” she said. Across the service, there are a total of 135 career fields.

Typically understaffed fields include special warfare, linguists, cyber, maintenance and security forces, Heitzman said.

Other changes to encourage retention among the more than 100,000 first-term airmen currently serving include allowing retraining in lieu of separation, a decision that’s typically made about three months before the end of one’s initial contract, Heitzman said.

Previously, airmen could opt for a career switch only during a nine-month window stretching between two years, 11 months and three years, seven months into a four-year enlistment. 

In addition, airmen can retrain for a different job in the same career field; for example, an Arabic linguist could switch to another language.

To be approved, eligible airmen interested in changing jobs must be within their retraining window, meet Air Force Enlisted Classification Directory standards, score appropriately on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and pass medical and physical fitness standards.

The new policy promises a more streamlined “first in, first out” approach for processing applicants.

Bass, in a post on her official Facebook page, called the policy a “win.”

“I’m excited for this, and many other changes, coming down the pipeline as we get after talent management and keeping our Air Force bench strong,” she wrote.

Many left positive comments on her post, but some questioned the new policy.

“What about for career airmen, don’t forget about us,” Staff Sgt. Rodolfo Santoyo said Thursday.

In response, Bass replied: “Will look at that as well … this is the first iteration.”

For Tech. Sgt. Edward Stewart, the change is too little too late.

“I wish I had the opportunity to do this forever ago,” he wrote. “Loved the Air Force but was stuck in an (Air Force Specialty Code) I hated for over 15 years.”

Stewart worked in security forces and is being medically retired due to musculoskeletal issues sustained on the job, he told Stars and Stripes by Facebook Messenger on Thursday.

Stewart said he could not continue as a security forces airman due to his injuries, “so I was kicked to the curb,” but “I could definitely continue my service in another AFSC.”

Bass promised further opportunities through similar policy changes.

“While this particular change impacts First Term Airmen, expect to see more initiatives like this as we evolve our policies and talent management to focus on the force of the future and building the Air Force our nation needs.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Jennifer H. Svan contributed to this report.

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Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.

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