ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force is shortening the time enlisted airmen have to make a certain rank before they have to leave active duty.

The “enlisted high year of tenure limits” were lengthened in 2003 when retention dipped, but retention is doing better now due to the bad economy, said Col. Joan Garbutt, Air Force chief of military force policy.

“The program was extremely successful from 2003 until now, and since we’re retaining folks so well, it’s time to get in alignment with the other services,” Garbutt said on Wednesday.

The move affects 2,500 airmen — 500 senior airmen, 400 technical sergeants, 1,200 master sergeants and 400 senior master sergeants — an Air Force news release said.

Affected airmen have two more test cycles to make rank before the changes take effect, Garbutt said.

Deployed airmen affected by the change will now return at least 30 days before reaching their new high year of tenure date, the release said.

All airmen forced to separate will receive involuntary separation pay. Technical, master and senior master sergeants can apply for full retirement.

Chief master sergeants and staff sergeants are not affected by the move because their high year tenures were not raised in 2003. The move also does not affect members of the Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard.

Here are the new maximum times that enlisted airmen have to make rank:

•Senior master sergeants: 26 years, effective Jan 1, 2012.

•Master sergeants: 24 years, effective April 1, 2011.

•Technical sergeants: 22 years, effective Aug. 1, 2011.

•Senior airmen: 10 years, effective Sept. 1, 2011.

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